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'Paradise': Feeling is Believing

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 4, 2000


    'Color of Paradise' Hossein Mahjub and Mohsen Ramezani (on horse) play a father and son with differing perspectives on life in "The Color of Paradise." (Sony Pictures Classics)
Like so many other great Iranian films in recent years, "The Color of Paradise" draws your deepest emotions with the simplest of stories.

Writer-director Majid Majidi's drama about an 8-year-old blind boy (Mohsen Ramezani) and the impoverished father (Hossein Mahjub) too distracted by life to appreciate him is both beautiful and terrible. While your eyes gaze rapturously at the country's breathtaking vistas, your heart is alternately lifted and torn by this bittersweet testament to God's mysterious ways.

The movie's a heartbreaker, plain and simple. But it is an eloquent one, in the tradition of similarly affecting films about childhood suffering, including Francois Truffaut's 1959 "The 400 Blows" and Robert Bresson's 1967 "Mouchette"; or, more recently, a touching 1992 film by Richard Donner called "Radio Flyer."

They're all experiences of audience powerlessness, in which we must watch young spirits take on the world armed only with their innocence.

Mohammad (Ramezani) is a sweet little boy with sightless blue eyes who attends a school for the blind in Tehran. When we meet him at the beginning of summer break, he's waiting eagerly for his father to take him home.

One by one, the other children disappear as their parents collect them. Still waiting for his father, Mohammad hears the distress call of a bird that has toppled from its nest.

Mohammad's hands poke through a blanket of brown leaves to find the lonely soul. He finds the bird, shoos away a lurking cat and, with agonizing tenacity, climbs the tree. Groping his way from branch to branch, Mohammad eventually finds the nest the bird fell from.

Although the symbolism is painfully obvious, the scene is too visually compelling to dismiss. And more significantly, it marks the beginning of an emotional odyssey for Mohammad.

His father eventually comes for him and takes him to the mountainous region where Mohammad is to spend the summer with his two preteen sisters (Elham Sharim and Farahnaz Safari) and kindly grandmother (Salime Feizi).

But Hashem, the father, remains clouded over by despair. Mohammad's mother passed away recently, leaving him with three children to raise. He has little money. And he feels that Mohammad will hamper his plan to marry a local woman from a devout family. So Hashem ships his blind son to a carpenter in another area, where Mohammad can stay out of the way and learn a trade, too.

The distraught Mohammad, denied the company of his family, forms a bond with the carpenter, who is also blind. There is a God, the carpenter tells him. But He is invisible. Therefore, Mohammad has as good a chance of experiencing him as anyone else. There's only one way to truly see God, he continues: Through one's hands.

This seemingly casual piece of information becomes crucial in the final act when, on a horsebound journey home, father and son are faced with the force of God's will.

Majidi, who also made the delightful "Children of Heaven," creates a cinematic tapestry where story, color and texture blend exquisitely.

The awesome greens of the trees, the multicolored canopy of mountain flowers that villagers use to make rug dyes, are enough to make you swoon. And the film's scenes are wonderfully staged, like a joyous moment at the chicken coop, when the grandmother throws grain to the chickens while Mohammad and one of his sisters collect the eggs and feathers float toward the skies. Then there's the bus ride that brings Mohammad to the mountains for the first time that summer. While his father stares glumly ahead, Mohammad sticks an arm out the window, clutching a tiny feather.

"I'm trying to catch the wind," he tells his father. Hashem, blind in more ways than his son, fails to register this delicate moment. But we don't miss a thing.

THE COLOR OF PARADISE (Unrated, 90 minutes) – Contains scenes of emotional intensity. In Farsi with subtitles.


© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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