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Notes on The Color of Paradise

A lazy Saturday – I finished watching  True Grit, went to Costco with the wife and daughter then returned to watch The Color of Paradise, a beautiful Iranian film from filmmaker Majid Majidi.  The DVD came from Netflix months ago, renting on the recommendation of my friend Adnan. But with a new baby I rarely have time to sit down and give foreign films their due attention. Luckily Boston was kind enough to take an afternoon nap long enough for me to enjoy this poetic and deeply affecting film.

The film quickly introduces us to Mohammad, our amiable child protagonist.  We first see him at school where he excels at his learning, he has an open and friendly relationship with his teacher and gets along with his fellow students.  He appears to be a healthy, normal student except we find him at a special school for the blind.  Here he fits in with the other blind students and is rather comfortable. But this is the final day of school and everyone waits for their families to pick them up to go home for the 3 month summer break.  The other students are picked up, they are met by happy, hurried parents. Mohammad waits. The final classmate fades from the scene, and Mohammad still waits.

The film focuses on the people and creatures in the world in need of compassion and assistance.  While waiting for his neglectful father, Mohammad can hear the desperate chirp from a bird in distress.  He feels his way through the woods, searching for the struggling animal. He even scares off a hungry calico in order to rescue the bird.  This blind child’s benevolence is not easily discouraged.  He struggles to climb a tree, feeling each individual branch in search of the nest. It’s a show of pure determination and compassion. It’s the sort of compassion his father is completely incapable of showing.

From the moment we meet Mohammad’s father he is looking for a way to relinquish his responsibilities as a father to everyone else. To quote my wife, “his dad’s a dick.”  Well said wife. Hossein Mahjoub plays Father’s emotional dilemma with a solemn intensity that makes you despise the character. He isn’t a man for whom you feel sympathy. You might pity him, as his mother in the film does.  And, if you are the rare audience member that can feel sympathetic toward his situation, that feeling will quickly escape you during the scene between Mohammad and the blind carpenter.

As the Blind Carpenter is teaching Mohammad how to identify certain types of wood by their density he feels Mohammad’s tears.  The young actor launches into a brief monologue about having no love in his life. He expresses he understands that people are always trying to run from him, nobody wants to care for him and its all because he is blind.  Maybe if he could see, he tells his mentor, he could earn the love of his family, but being blind is not his fault. He continues to say that he walks through the world with his hands stretched out hoping he can touch God one day, and asking him why life is as it is.  It’s a beautiful scene and the monologue is captured in one medium close-up meaning all the emotion came from this young actor (Mohsen Ramezani), not from the camera, not from the editing and not from any sort of swelling orchestral score.

As we see Mohammad flopping around in life, looking for a loving hand to reach out to him, we are also shown another animal in distress. Mohammad’s grandma set out to bring Mohammad back home when she comes across a fish flopping in shallow water. In a frail state she strains herself to bend over, picking up the fish and gently placing him in deeper water.  She’s the only character that accepts her role in Mohammad’s life and the only other character that helps an animal in distress. She’s connected to Mohammad through a shared compassion for the world around them.

As Father and Mohammad walk through the woods we are shown a quick shot of a turtle struggling between two rocks.  It’s a silent struggle, so Mohammad cannot hear the turtle although you can be assured that he would have helped. Father didn’t see the turtle and that is just as important as if he saw it and passed it by.  He is too self-involved, consumed with self-pity to be aware of others that may need a helping hand.  And this leads into the final climatic scene.  I will spare you the details as to not spoil it, but Father is faced with the decision whether he wants to save Mohammad’s life or if he’d be better off with Mohammad dying. It’s a powerful climax and ends with one single frame that inspires hope.  This final frame is the sort of optimism we were hoping we’d see through out this depressing story.

This ending is something I find common in films from this region, and I’m in love with the use of one final image that changes our entire mood.  I can tell this film has inspired my friend Adnan as you get the some final sense of hope in his short films, Maggie’s Heart and Heal.  It also reminds me of the final moment in A Moment of Innocence, by Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf. If you haven’t seen A Moment of Innocence, put it in your Netflix queue now! In fact, add The Color of Paradise and add Turtles Can Fly, a film by a Kurdish-Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi.

These are filmmakers from what has been called the Iranian New Wave. They’re from a  country that the US Government at one time put in “The Axis of Evil.”  Yes, Iran did at one time ban A Moment of Innocence, but if their films are any indication of the spirit of the people then ‘evil’ is a horrible, all-encapsulating term to use.  Their films exemplify the beauty found in a child-like innocence and blind optimism.

(sorry this note is about 10 years late)

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