Venice (AFP)

Without falling into miserability, "The Children of the Sun", an Iranian film presented Sunday in competition in Venice, denounces the misery of children condemned to work to survive through the touching portrait of Ali, 12, and three of his children. friends.

The camera of filmmaker Majid Majidi, the first Iranian selected for the Oscar for best foreign film in 1999, follows them through the streets and the metro of Tehran, where they live on expedients to help their families, while each having a secret dream. : Ali wants to get his mother out of the hospice where she is interned, one of his friends wants to become a footballer ...

"It is a film of social denunciation of a problem which concerns the whole world and not only Iran", explains the director in an interview with AFP, recalling that "officially 152 million children work through the world".

"In India too, the situation of children is catastrophic. Afghanistan is a country which has not known peace for over 40 years. In Syria, children are victims of war," he enumerates.

"Children are the most affected by this situation, while they represent the future of humanity."

To interpret its protagonists, Majid Majidi, a regular at international festivals, chose children living in the streets to "show their abilities and their humanity".

“The casting took four months, 4,000 children were interviewed,” he says.

In the end, it was Ali Nasirian, a kid bursting with energy under his brown hair, who was chosen to play the hero.

“Unfortunately, Ali tested positive for the coronavirus just before our departure. He is asymptomatic and is doing well but he was very sad not to be able to come to Venice,” regrets the filmmaker.

On the other hand, Shamila Shirzad, a 13-year-old girl of Afghan origin, the object of Ali's silent affection, was able to be on the journey: "I have been working since I was five. In the morning, I go to the school and in the afternoon I work in the metro ", soberly told the young actress with the communicative smile during a press conference.

- "Grow normally" -

The right to education is at the center of the film, which shows how the possibility of going to school can revolutionize the daily life of these adrift children by opening up to them previously unsuspected perspectives.

Majid Majidi, who has "a long experience in working with children", underlines the extraordinary capacity of these children forced to lead adult lives.

"Their life is like a huge movie set. To shoot with them is not complicated, because they are used to working to live and help their families."

Many of these street children in Tehran come from Afghanistan: "We have a very long border with Afghanistan," recalls the filmmaker.

"Many enter the country illegally, without documents, so the children cannot enroll in school because they do not have an identity document, we do not know their date of birth ..."

In spite of the delicacy of the subject, Majid Majidi avoids falling into the tearful, including on the contrary scenes denoting this carelessness specific to the world of childhood, even in misery.

"The themes are already sad, so I wanted to find a balance between light and serious subjects".

Faced with the magnitude and complexity of the problems facing these children, the filmmaker is well aware that "economically and politically, we cannot hope for a radical change in their existence, because they do not have the appropriate context to grow normally ".

"But we can try to help them find their way," he concludes in a hopeful note.

© 2020 AFP