Please check back to read more Iranian film critiques. C.E. Chambers hopes to work on this by late September 2011.
THE COLOR OF PARADISE (Sony Pictures Classics; Farsi language w/English subtitles)
Written by C.E. Chambers and published by “The Journal Newspapers Movie Edition,” April 25, 2000.
To say that Iranian cinema is experiencing a rebirth is a serious understatement. Starved for freedom of expression under the Ayatollah Khomeini, almost 50 theaters were burned down by hardline Islamic revolutionaries from early 1978 until the Imam’s takeover in 1979. Cinema there today is a flower whose slowly unfolding petals promise great beauty within the walls of a policed garden.
Iranian director Majid Majidi’s exquisitely filmed Children of Heaven was nominated for an Academy Award in 1999. His newest offering has been stripped of all superfluous elements but still lures viewers on a visual if not visceral level.
The storyline is as much about an eight-year-old blind boy as it is about his widowed father and paternal grandmother. Mohammad is a child prodigy of sorts but his father is oblivious to his accomplishments. It’s summer break and the boy returns to his home, a hamlet near the Caspian Sea where he’s joyously reunited with his grandmother and two sisters. His father has plans to remarry and they don’t include Mohammad.
Before he returns to this rural paradise, the early scenes emphasize the boy’s vulnerability. He waits alone outside the heavily-foliaged Tehran school for his very tardy father. The suspense builds to an excruciating level until Mohammad unerringly crawls to a bird that’s fallen from a nest and returns it to its mother.
The movie begins with prayer and ends with life cheating certain death. In-between, the Iranian countryside is a spectacular backdrop for the bruising interplay between father and son, and the unconditional love of the boy’s grandmother. They eat a lunch of white goat cheese and noon-e-lavosh (a sheet of bread baked in a wood-fired oven) while sitting in a meadow blanketed with wildflowers. Her gray, henna-streaked hair is visible from under a rusari (headscarf) and frames a face made ageless by serenity. Mohammad’s face is filled with wonder: His ears are his eyes and his fingers continually move with quick precision upon stalks of wheat and even unbaked bread dough as he translates the birds’ songs into Braille.
An emotionally-charged scene between the boy and his father reveals why Mohammad incessantly explores his unseen world. His teachers had taught him that “God loves the blind and you can see Him through your fingers.” Mohammad is determined to reach out until the day he can physically touch God and “tell Him all the secrets in my heart.”
An elegantly simple film with instrumental music only briefly intruding upon nature’s melodies, the dreamlike quality is so powerful that a horrifying scene of Mohammad and a horse falling from a bridge into rapidly flowing water impacts viewers a heartbeat later.
(Written by C.E. Chambers and Published by “The Journal Newspapers Movie Edition,” April 25, 2000)