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Color of Paradise

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Color of Paradise

Starring: Mohsen Ramezani, Hossein Mahjoub
Director: Majid Majidi
Rated: PG
RunTime: 90 Minutes
Release Date: March 2001
Genres: Drama, Foreign

*Also starring: Salime Feizi, Elham Sharifi, Farahnaz Safari

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

The 16th Century French writer Henri Estienne once said "Dieu mesure le froid a la brebis tondue," which translates as "God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb." Similarly, Mahatma Gandhi insisted in the last century that God reserves a special spot in His heart for the untouchables, whom he called harijan--children of God. Does the Almighty really retain a special rank for those who through no fault of their own suffer great misfortune? That notion is tested severely in Majid Majidi's "Color or Paradise," a cinematically glorious, emotionally heartwrenching film that deserves the accolades it garnered at the New York and Toronto film festivals. Majidi follows up on his big box office success "Children of Heaven," his 1997 tale of a young boy trying to replace his sister's pink shoes, a movie showing the importance of family and honor which became Iran's first Oscar contender for Best Foreign Language film. His current work centers like that one on an eight- year-old boy--this time on one who cannot yet believe that he is one of God's chosen. Blind since birth, young Mohammad (Mohsen Ramezani) attends a school for the sightless in Tehran, but when the three-months' summer vacation begins, he rightly suspects that his father, Hashem (Hossein Mahjoub), would like to discard him.

Majidi is not unlike Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher who in his "Emile" extolled children as creatures of nature, uncorrupted by the complexities of the world including its politics, hatreds, and other evils. Early on, we wonder though about Mohammad. As he awaits his father, he wanders about the school grounds, hissing away a cat and even throwing a rock to scare the feline animal away for good. But we see why. Using his acute sense of hearing (presumably one of God's ways of tempering the handicap of sightlessness), Mohammad feels about the ground until he discovers a young chick that had fallen out of his nest. Climbing a tree with great difficulty, he lovingly replaces the bird in his home.

Majidi's attention shifts regularly from the boy to his father, a self-pitying, middle-aged coal worker in northern Iran who lives with his aging mother and his two young, cheerful daughters. At one point during a rainstorm, he whimpers and cries out to Granny (Salime Feizi), wondering about the very existence of God--who has made him a widower and has given him a handicapped son. We discover later on that Hashem's dilemma is not that he is unable to take care of the boy but that the child's existence could threaten his proposed marriage to a much younger woman (Masoomeh Zeinati), whose own father looks to a future in which his daughter would be burdened with the care of an old and sickly husband.

Mohammad, then, despite his blindness and his desolation at the thought that nobody loves him because of his condition, lives in a happier world than his father. Attuned to nature, Mohammad joyfully witnesses the sounds of woodpeckers in the forest chipping away at trees in much the way that the local blind carpenter (Morteza Fatemi) sculpts with his wood. He glories in the song of the seagulls which dart about among the rapids of the starkly beautiful hilltops of the northern countryside while his grandma, who shares the simplicity of rural life, returns a trapped fish to deeper waters just as her grandson had saved the life of a little bird.

While Majidi's 1997 "Children of Heaven" was filmed exclusively in Tehran, the writer-director opens us to the glories of nature in his present work, featuring the rushing rapids of the local river, the mist that forms among the many hills, the land which seems removed by centuries from the dust and traffic and commerce of the capital city. The final moment is a quiet blockbuster, if you will, vindicating the story that leads up to a striking image. "Color of Paradise" lets us know in this painfully exquisite labor of love that we may doubt God's existence from time to time given the many tragedies that befall us, but when the chips are down, we know that He is with us.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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