'The Color of Paradise'
By JOE MORGENSTERN
Wall Street Journal
March 31, 2000
'The Color of Paradise' : Words can't convey the beauty of Majid Majidi's
"The Color of Paradise," and not just because this Iranian film
is a captivating human drama. Words simply don't exist for some of the
hues captured by the camera -- colors off to the side of mauve or teal,
variations on the ancient Persian fondness for lavender. In one sense the
visual splendor is poignant, because the spunky eight-year-old hero, Mohammad,
is blind. He can't savor the glaucous cast of a stucco dome on a small
rural shrine, can't feast his eyes on the periwinkle expanse of alfalfa
fields. (Or "alfa alfa," as the shaky subtitles have it.) But
the movie celebrates other senses too. Mohammad feels the smile on a friend's
face, the terror in a chick fallen from its nest. He smells fog, revels
in wind, hears shimmering colorations in bird songs. The headbangers of
this kid's world are woodpeckers.
In the hands of a lesser artist, "The Color of Paradise" could
have been an awful film, as sticky as a multiplex floor. But Mr. Majidi,
whose charming "Children of Heaven" opened here last year, wants
us to see that his child of nature (played with passion and remarkable
grace by Mohsen Ramezani) is also a funny, happy, fearless and talented
little boy. Mohammad succeeds with everyone but his father, Hashem, who
considers him a burden and a shame. As the story begins, the boy and his
classmates at a school for the blind in Tehran are waiting for their parents
to pick them up for summer vacation. Unbeknownst to Mohammad, his father,
a manual laborer, implores the headmaster to keep the boy permanently.
When Hashem is rebuffed in this heartless request, he takes his son home
to the mountains of northern Iran, and a family farm pretty enough for
a remake of "The Sound of Music."
That's the literal paradise of the title; it's populated by Mohammad's
adoring grandmother and two giggly sisters, all of them close to the land
and to one another. Paradise is lost when the boy's father, a widower hoping
to marry a local woman of some means, sends Mohammad off as an apprentice
to a blind carpenter (who proves that blindness doesn't always confer emotional
wisdom). Is paradise regained? You'll have to see for yourself, but I can
tell you that this movie, shot on what must have been a tiny budget, has
a pounding, animistic climax that's almost too intense to bear. Like his
hero, Majid Majidi does brilliantly well within severe limits.