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'Color of Paradise'

Unseen blessings: 'Color of Paradise' shows two sides of the spectrum

Friday, May 19, 2000

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Another movie from Iran has arrived and, yes, it is another film with a child in a leading role -- the better to state allegorically what it might be dangerous to say directly.

'Color of Paradise'

RATING: PG for thematic elements.

STARRING: Mohsen Ramezani, Hossein Mahjub.

DIRECTOR: Majid Mijidi.

CRITIC'S CALL: 3 stars.


But, at least on the surface, "The Color of Paradise" takes an entirely different path than such predecessors as "The White Balloon" and "Children of Heaven."

In each of those movies, a little girl who lives in a poor section of the city loses an item of seemingly small value and reacts as if the world is coming to an end, which it may well appear to someone of that age.

"The Color of Paradise," opening at the Harris Theater, centers on a young boy, Mohammad (Mohsen Ramezani), who has lost something incalculable -- his sight. He attends a school for blind children. As the movie begins he awaits the arrival of his father, Hashem (Hossein Mahjub), to take him home for the summer.

But Hashem keeps him waiting long after the other children have had happy reunions with their parents. When the father finally does arrive, he takes Mohammad only grudgingly. He is a widower, a poor man (in more ways than one) and, as his face betrays, a desperately unhappy one. Why has God afflicted him so, he wonders?

He sees Mohammad as a burden, which only proves that he cannot see at all. The boy's spiritual beauty is made clear in a wondrous scene at the school. While waiting for his father to arrive, the boy explores a wooded area. His acute sense of hearing picks up a distress call. He finds a baby bird that has fallen from its nest, picks it up, somehow climbs the tree and returns it to its home.

For a while, Mohammad is equally fortunate. He returns to his grandmother's farm high in the mountains, a place of visual splendor and emotional comfort, where Granny (Salime Feizi) tucks the boy and his two young sisters snugly under her wing.

But Hashem's desperation threatens everyone's serenity. He wants to marry a woman from a strict Islamic family and fears the presence of Mohammad will nix the painstakingly negotiated arrangement.

Ultimately, the movie is really about Hashem and his inability to realize the blessings that surround him. As a blind carpenter tells Mohammad, "God is not visible. He is everywhere, you can feel him. You can see with your hands." But Hashem chooses not to see. He is not an intentional villain, just a victim of his own unhappiness, casting himself from paradise without realizing it.

Writer-director Majid Mijidi, whose previous film was "Children of Heaven," keeps his story and his camerawork simple, allowing his performers and the beauty of God's handiwork to speak for themselves.

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