Published Jun 01, 2000I can't think of any filmmaker who has a more positive view of childhood than Iranian director Majid Majidi. The children in his movies are uniformly resilient, and unselfish. In his previous film, Children of Heaven, two impoverished kids secretly have to share the same pair of shoes so as not to burden their struggling parents. His heartbreaking, but carefully measured new film, The Color of Paradise, is about an eight-year-old blind kid named Mohammad (Moshen Ramezani), whose widowed father (Hosein Mahjoob) basically wants to be rid of him. In the opening scene, Mohammad has just finished his year at the school for the blind, and he's left waiting on a park bench into the dusk hours, long after all the other dads have picked up their kids. His father finally, but reluctantly, retrieves him and coldly whisks him off to stay with his Granny and two sisters. There, on his grandmother's farm in beautiful northern Iran, Mohammad enjoys a brief period of joy and abandon before he's sent away again. His father wants Mohammad to learn to be self-sufficient so he takes him to apprentice with a blind carpenter.
Obviously, the story of an unloved blind kid has limitless possibilities for mawkish sentiment, but writer/director Majidi (the most accessible of Iranian filmmakers) directs in a clean, simple style that is astonishing in its impact. His camera admires Mohammad's serious, purposeful face (this child actor is actually blind in real life, so he thankfully doesn't know how to suck up to the camera). There are lots of close-ups of Mohammad's hands working dexterously at reading or writing Braille, or touching the stones on the bottom of a river, searching for a Braille-like pattern amongst them. This child is not to be pitied; he makes the best of every situation, even though his father looks on him with resentment, believing that having a blind son will hold him back from attracting another wife, or from keeping a good job. Although there are moments of catharsis that arise, they're treated with calm understanding, not overblown swells of music. The Color of Paradise is a bit of a marvel - you'll know you're in the hands of a master storyteller from the word go. It's crowd-pleasing without being manipulative. It's a movie about "seeing" God in your surroundings, but it's not stiff or preachy. Majidi's directorial approach is a combination of grit and transcendence, and he's got as much Truffaut in him as he does Spielberg.