Review by David Macdonald
3½ stars out of 4
The Colour of Paradise is living proof that not every filmmaker from
Iran is a pretentious bore. I have to say that because my memory
of Abbas Kiorostami's Where is the Friend's Home is only somewhat
deluded from the time that I actually watched the thing. Kiorostami
also directed the Golden Palm winner The Taste of Cherry, which I've
not seen yet, but which, from what I've heard, is also a pretty dreary
production, unless you talk to the art snobs, who will tell you that
it's a masterpiece. Of course they call it a masterpiece because
it's slow, contains no stars, and is from a very obscure part of the
world. The fact that Kiorostami is an untalented twit had to be disregarded.
Well, actually, I know that not every film from Iran is terrible.
Majid Majidi, Paradise's director, also did The Children of Heaven,
which is a great movie, sort of an Iranian Truffaut. The Colour
of Paradise is also a film which deals with children, but in a different,
more melodramatic way. The film benefits from an interesting lead
character, and an intriguing glimpse into his world. And Abbas Kiorostami
is nowhere to be seen.
Mohammad is a young kid, apparently blind since birth, who, as the
film begins, is finishing his term at the School for the Blind. During
the day, they do pretty much the same thing that other kids do, except
that when they take dictation, the blind kids do it in Braille. As
well, the kids seem to pass the time with music and other such things.
At the end of the term, however, it is apparent that something is
not quite right with Mohammad's situation, as he is found, by the
teacher, still sitting on the bench hours after all the other kids
have been picked up by their parents. The teacher tries to console
the kid, and even phones his father on the cell phone to remind him
to pick the son up, but it says something about the regard the father
has for his own son if a teacher has to phone him to remind him that,
hey, your kid's waiting for you to take him home!
The regard that the father has is apparent when he actually does show
up -- he sees the kid, but keeps walking until he sees the teacher
and administrator, and he pleads with them to keep the child for the
holidays. You might hope that the father is just desperate because
he doesn't have the money to keep him with the family, or something
equally understandable, but that couldn't be further from the truth.
Once the father has no choice but to take the kid home to the village,
he has to take the kid along on errands; he buys some jewellery and
a few other things. It turns out that the father is making plans
to wed the daughter of a neighbouring family; his wife died a few
years ago, and he needs to find a suitable replacement, hopefully
someone younger who can take care of him in his old age. The father
sees Mohammad as a weight, a punishment by God for whatever unexplainable
reason. As usual, selfishness prevails in the father's personality,
as he is completely concer!
ned with his own needs and not the need of others, or of life's harsh unpredictability.
Majidi's direction is filled with beautiful images and interesting
shots. One thing the camera shows is the great scenery of Iran; when
you think of the Middle East, you probably think of impoverished towns
and villages, and while this movie certainly shows us a village that
isn't really up to snuff technologically speaking, it also shows us
great images of natural beauty. The colour, the greens and the blues,
just jumps out at you.
The best thing, though, is the kid who plays Mohammad. It seems obvious
to me that this is an actual blind kid playing this role, and he does
a great job. I couldn't imagine how the director was able to direct
the kid, but obviously the work paid off, because the kid has some
great moments. One amazing moment happens during his wait for his
father. He hears a noise under the leaves nearby. He feel around
the leaves (and drives a curious cat away), and finds a baby bird,
fallen from its nest. He puts it in his shirt pocket, walks to the
tree, climbs it, and puts the bird back inside. Believe me, I was
rather afraid that the poor little bird would end up getting injured,
as the kid awkwardly climbed the tree, but all soon becomes well.
The kid has much delicacy and patience, necessary due to his lack
of sight, and this scene is very compelling just as documentation
on how a blind person interacts with the world.
The kid also has some good acting scenes, including an anguished monologue
to a blind carpenter (who the father sends the kid to, supposedly
to get the kid to learn how to be independent but probably just as
much so the father can try getting rid of Mohammad yet again) in which
he says that nobody loves him because he is blind. He continues
by saying that his teacher told him once that God loves blind people,
and responds by asking why God would make them blind. The answer
was that God is not visible, but is in all things, and that when he
goes to heaven, God will reveal to him and others like him all His
secrets. This observation fits in with Mohammad's intense study
of the sounds and objects of nature -- I think that Mohammad perceives
such things to be messages or secrets from God.
The movie moves pretty slowly, but nevertheless, there is little unnecessary
content, and the film is just right at 90 minutes. Unlike our good
friend Abbas, Majidi at least has some (well, a lot of) skill at telling
a story that relies heavily on images, as well as being able to show
us a very interesting and quirky character. And the movie ends on
a tragic, haunting note that elevates the content of the film into
a spiritual level. I suppose that spiritual level involves Islam,
but I think everybody will understand the subject matter. It's a
beautiful ending, anyway, and The Colour of Paradise is definitely
one to see for those interested in Iranian cinema.
Copyright © 2001 David Macdonald