Written and Directed by Majid Majidi
With Mohsen Ramezani, Hossein Mahjub, Salime Feize
90 minutes; in Farsi, with subtitles (1999)
All the other students at the school for the blind have been
picked up by their families for the summer vacation. Mohammad,
a boy of about eight years old, sits on a bench waiting for
his father, hour after hour. In the quiet now that the other
children have gone, Mohammad hears the plaintive cry of a
baby bird. He begins crawling around the school grounds, searching
through damp leaves and pinecones for the creature. He finds
the injured baby bird, climbs a tree and places him back in
the nest where his mother waits.
If this sounds a bit too precious for words, it doesn't play
that way - at least at the beginning - in The Color of Paradise,
an Iranian film written and directed by Majid Majidi. This
sequence and a few others throughout the film have a piercing,
unsentimental clarity. As Mohammad (Mohsen Ramezani) climbs
the tree, for instance, a few well-edited shots show how difficult
a feat that is when you can't see the branches above or whether
there's a foothold below. I used to love to climb trees when
I was a kid, and this wordless few minutes brought home to
me how something so simple becomes a gigantic challenge to
a blind person.
It also efficiently demonstrates Mohammad's perseverance
and strength, qualities that he needs in the course of the
film. His sad-eyed father Hashem (Hosein Mahjub) does eventually
come to pick him up, but immediately asks if the school can
keep him over the summer. When they refuse, he grudgingly
takes Mohammad back to the country.
Hashem's Dickensian cruelty becomes a bit clearer when we
see how anxious he is to remarry (he's a poor widower). He's
afraid a blind son will ruin his chances to marry a pretty
young woman from a strict religious family.
Balancing Hashem's selfishness are Mohammad's sisters and
his grandmother (Salime Feizi), a wise, loving presence who
adores her grandson. She accepts his blindness as part of
the order of things, unlike the father, who sees it (and the
rest of his life) as near-intolerable burdens, to be shifted
or cast aside if possible.
The film, which takes place in the mountainous region of
northern Iran, employs the area's stunning visuals to good
effect. If, like me, you thought Iran was all desert, Paradise
shows just how varied, and beautiful, the country can be.
Low-flying clouds pass through the steep, tree-covered mountains.
Fields of wheat and wildflowers stretch into the distance.
The problem is that the scenery, and the symbolism (that
baby bird is only the first of several small animals that
has been cast out and cast aside) sometimes overwhelms the
human aspects of the story. Once the basic conflict is established,
between the father's spiritual blindness and the higher vision
of the son, it's not really developed much further, and the
plot seems to meander. The highly dramatic, almost action-movie
climax of the film comes as such a shock that it feels tacked
Paradise is strongest when it focuses on the everyday
details of rural life. If you've ever wondered how to collect
flower petals and cook them into a soup-like dye to color
wool, you'll get a quick visual lesson in this movie. The
acting is also excellent, especially Ramezani as the blind
boy. He conveys the innocence and curiosity required by the
role without becoming overly sticky-sweet. Feizi's grandmother
also balances sweetness with the toughness that's obviously
been required to survive as long as she has.
(This article originally appeared in Films in Review, www.filmsinreview.com)