"The White Balloon" is coming to a theater near you in the United States. But you will not see large ads for it in your local paper. It will not star Mel Gibson or Julia Roberts or their look alikes. And it will have dreadful subtitles.
But it will be home to your eyes and music to your ears.
"The White Balloon" is Iranian cinema's latest success story. It won two awards at the 1995 Cannes Film Festival and has gotten rave reviews world-wide. Recognizing its mass appeal, October Films is distributing the film in major U.S. cities this winter.
The film, directed by Jafar Panahi with a screenplay by Abbas Kiarostami ("Through the Olive Trees", "Where's the Friend's Home"), tells the story of a little girl who encounters one problem after the other in her relentless effort to buy the right (big) fish for Eid -- Iranian New Year's Day -- decorations.
But throughout the film, the plot becomes secondary to the human encounters. There is no high drama and certainly no sex, violence or fantasy as required in a typical Hollywood product. It is only the plain humanity of the characters that makes "The White Balloon" and many other recent Iranian films so moving.
From start to finish, Aida Mohammad-Khani (Raziyeh) will make you laugh, cry and wonder. This charming, adorable girl is Iran's answer to Shirley Temple. But Aida is no cutie doll. No tap dancing, made up curly hair or forced girly talk either. She wins your heart only by the strength of character.
The most memorable part of "The White Balloon" is her encounter with a provincial soldier convincingly played by Mohammad Shahani. The high tension between the innocent little girl all alone facing a strange man in military clothing is resolved one tender moment after the other.
"The White Balloon" is a worthy contender for Best Foreign Film in this year's Oscars. Iran's Islamic Guidance Ministry has said it wants to withdrew the film to protest a U.S. plan to spend $18 million for covert actions aimed at overthrowing the Islamic Republic. However, Oscar officials have said it is too late to pull the film and it will be judged.
In any case, do Iranian officials really think $20 million will blow them away? Besides, which is more effective? Sticking your tongue out and making faces at a superpower or proving your intelligence and high culture? The artists who created "The White Balloon" have more than proven theirs.