Watch the trailer here before proceeding.
There are always certain films that leave a mark upon us. Majid Majidi’s The Color of Paradise is one of those films; even if it doesn’t make you cry, its innocence and beauty profoundly affects you.
The Color of Paradise is a simple, yet powerful story of a blind young boy, Mohamed who is a student boarder at an institute for the blind in Tehran. His father, Hashem who is a widower, two sisters (Haniyeh and Bahareh) and his paternal grandmother (who everyone affectionately calls Aziz) live in a village up in the mountains near Tehran. The father is planning to marry a woman and he hasn’t told her or her family about Mohamed. So he tries to find ways to get rid of his son.
Meanwhile, Mohamed is ecstatic to be home for the summer and to meet his sisters and grandmother after being away for a long time. What he doesn’t know is that his father wants to get rid of him so he can remarry a woman in the village. At least it is not apparent to him until much later in the film when he’s being taken away by his father who wants to apprentice him to a well-known blind carpenter in the vicinity.
The real beauty of the film lies in those little moments of the film where we see Mohamed at one with the nature around him. Even in the city, he is still at one with nature. And why should he not be? He is closer to the wind, the plants, the birds and animals around him than we, the sighted, could ever be. When he travels to his village accompanied by his father, there are moments where Mohamed is lost in his own little world, trying to find God around him. He takes a rock, sand from a seashore, a weed or two and ‘reads’ as if he were reading his Braille books. This continues when he gets to his village where he visits the fields on the surrounding mountainside with his grandmother.
Mohamed finally finds God in the last scene as his lifeless body lies in his father’s arm. The clouds break and sunlight shines upon the father and son after a long spell of relentless rain and subsequent floods. When the sunlight falls upon Mohamed’s hand, it starts to move in the familiar rhythm, as if he is ‘reading’ the signs that God is near him. Then his hand turns around so that his palm his facing the sunlight, as if God has held his hand.
The dialogues are equally, if not more, powerful as the script. For example, the scene where Mohamed tearfully tells the blind carpenter what he had learnt in his school in Tehran about God (quoted below) is probably the most heartrending moment in the film because it follows the heartbreaking scene where Mohamed realises his father is going to take him away from home permanently.
“Our teacher says that God loves the blind more because they can't see. But I told him if it was so, He would not make us blind so that we can't see Him. He answered "God is not visible. He is everywhere. You can feel Him. You see Him through your fingertips." / Now I reach out everywhere for God till the day my hands touch Him and tell Him everything, even all the secrets in my heart.”
Majidi’s treatment of Mohamed’s relationships is executed brilliantly. On one hand, his sisters and grandmother treat him as if he were just another young boy. He helps them in household chores which becomes a way of spending quality time for the four of them. He runs around the fields, holding hands with his sisters, laughing and playing. It is as if there is nothing missing in Mohamed. But on the other hand, when he is with his father, the relationship is completely reversed. Mohamed is much more subdued and quiet while he is with his father, probably much more aware of the fact that he can’t see.
The scenes where he and his father travel back to their village. There is hardly a word exchanged between them, unlike the constant chatter when he is with his sisters and grandmother. While he is with his father, Mohamed is even more lost in his own world, trying to find God in the wind that rushes past as he sits by the window in a bus, or amongst the pebbles as the river flows over them. Clearly, Hashem treats his son differently because he cannot see, and that forms the essence of the film. That is where Mohamed starts to feel that no one really loves him when actually he has his sisters and grandmother who do love him. However, his sisters are oblivious of their father’s plans to take him away and his grandmother is not strong enough to retaliate against her son. That makes Mohamed’s belief that he is unloved much more heartrending, yet innocent.
Another scene that is particularly notable for its poignancy is where all the children at the institute for the blind are reunited with their parents after spending a whole term away from them. As they can’t see, their reunion is all the more moving because their ways of recognising their parents is different from the rest of us. Watching a little child’s face break into a wide smile because he recognises the person who comes over and envelops him into a big hug as his mother and hugs her back a moment later is probably one of those genuinely adorable moments you will ever see on screen.
The Color of Paradise is another example of how advanced Iranian cinema is, especially in regard to the level of creativity found amongst Iranian filmmakers. Technological advancement is not the only reason why Iranian films are a treat to watch. It is actually their creativity that actually puts all the resources available to them to a good use and you have brilliant films like this one as the output.
So don’t miss out on The Color of Paradise, especially if you have watched and enjoyed Majidi’s earlier films like Children of Heaven and The Willow Tree. I would also recommend it to those who are interested in Iranian art and literature in general.