The Color of Paradise
1999, PG, 90 min. Directed by Majid Majidi. Starring Farahnaz Safari, Elbam Sharifi, Salime Feizi, Hossein Mahjoub, Mohsen Ramezani.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 9, 2000
With its constant, susurating chorus of ambient sounds, this Iranian import is less a film than a lyrical, naturalistic tone poem. I can't imagine it benefited from my having watched on video dub as opposed to inside of a theatre; even with stereo surround sound, the film needs the punch that only a large theatre sound system can provide. Not that this is a loud film. Far from it. The story of a young blind boy, Mohammad (Ramezani), and his interconnectivity to both his family and the natural world, The Color of Paradise is overflowing with subtle soundscapes. Most Western eyes, mine included, tend to think of Iran as a country of deserts. In our mind's eye, we see the dusty streets of Tehran, the fundamentalist jihad, and in our ears the daily calls to prayer echoing over an arid scene. Not so with Majidi's film, which moves from the tree-lined street of Mohammed's school for blind children to the home the boy shares with his grandmother (Feyzi), two sisters (Sharifi, Safari), and his father (Mahjoob). Nestled amidst the lush, forested mountains, the boy returns to this home at the end of the school year. The trip from Tehran, on the back of a horse pulled by his father, takes them through immense forests, over swirling rivers, and under a perfect, sprawling azure sky. It's an Iran I hadn't met before, and although Majidi's film is ostensibly about the boy and his relationship to his father, it seems to be equally in tune with the natural forces through which they move. That strained relationship, between boy and man, is at the heart of the film. Of poor means and hoping to marry into a somewhat more prosperous family, the father is at first reluctant to even pick up the boy from his school, and instead asks the headmaster if perhaps the child can stay through the summer. When the answer is no, he resigns himself to returning with the child he sees as a burden. As in many cultures, those with physical handicaps are marginalized by society and looked down upon. The fact that the boy receives this sort of treatment from his own father is only one of the quiet hardships Majidi throws at us. There's also the threat that Mohammad may be sent away from his beloved sisters and grandmother to apprentice with a blind carpenter, as well as the curiously pinched squint that rings his face in every scene. For all this, the film still has a doozy of a feel to it. It's not melancholy, but instead revels in the boy's innate contact with nature through his sense of hearing, touch, and smell. As he walks by fields of wheat and alfalfa, he holds his hands out lightly at his sides, allowing the wind-rippled fields to gently pass beneath his fingers. The Color of Paradise is a simple film in the best sense of the phrase, touching on basic human emotions and needs with a rapturous gaze and exquisite camerawork that glimpses not only the Iran unseen by most Westerners but also the inner pinwheel workings of the human heart. Good stuff, and nary a car crash or summer-film cliché in sight.