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With: Hossein Mahjoub, Mohsen Ramezani, Salameh Feyzi, Farahnaz Safari, Elham Sharifi
Written by: Majid Majidi
Directed by: Majid Majidi
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements
Language: Farsi with English subtitles
Running Time: 90
Date: 02/08/1999

The Color of Paradise (1999)

2 Stars (out of 4)


By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Readers of this page know that I am a rabid fan of Iranian cinema. Most of the Iranian films I've seen so far have all been privileged moments for me -- moments in time that have changed my life. Majid Majidi's The Color of Paradise (originally called The Color of Heaven) is the first Iranian film of its kind that I've seen; it's not very good.

Majid Majidi gave us last year's Children of Heaven, a great movie that was nominated for Best Foreign film. It dealt with a poor boy who accidentally mislays his sister's shoes. Since they can't afford new shoes, and their father would pitch a fit if he found out, they must hide it from him. So the boy enters a race in which second prize is a new pair of shoes. Like most Iranian films, this story dealt with a search for something, whether tangible or intangible. It presented a neo-realist slice-of-life, similar to what the Italians were attempting with films like Ossessione (1943), Open City (1945), and The Bicycle Thief (1949). But the Iranian cinema also includes a visual style that brings the films away from reality and closer to art.

That's where The Color of Paradise fails. It has no real story. We're supposed to be enraptured by its images, but even those fall into cliché. And without decent characters to drive the thing, we're left in the cold.

Mohammad (Mohsen Ramezani) attends a special school for the blind. When summer break arrives, his father arrives late to pick him up and then asks the school officials if they can keep Mohammad for the summer. It turns out he's trying to court a woman (his wife has died) and he fears that the blind child will be a deterrent. When he gets stuck with his son anyway, he next decides to ship him off to a blind woodcarver as an apprentice.

The father's behavior is horrifying throughout, and despite his cries of anguish, we can't ever forgive him or like him. There's no driving force to the movie, either. The whole conflict is between the horrible father, who complains about the lousy hand that fate has dealt him, and the altogether too-sweet Mohammad, who we see restoring a baby bird to its mother's nest, despite his having to feel around for everything. Indeed, Mohammad is so darn nice that everyone loves him. He happily discovers things with his hands and gives gifts to his sisters and grandmother. After Mohammad is dropped off at the woodcarver's and the focus of the film shifts to the father, the going becomes rather uncomfortable.

The father has a change of heart toward the end, but too late. Then we're supposed to weep at the ending sequence, but it's just too contrived. I liked some of Majidi's images, but The Color of Paradise is ultimately just so much treacle. Instead, I recommend the following Iranian films: Abbas Kiarostami's Where Is the Friend's Home? (1987) and And Life Goes On (1991); Jafar Panahi's The White Balloon (1995), which features a screenplay by Kiarostami; Mohsen Makhmalbaf's A Moment of Innocence (1996), and his daughter Samira Makhmalbaf's The Apple (1998).

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