A familiar tale, beautifully told

Movie reviews

May 12, 2000|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

Eight-year-old Mohammad can see in every way but with his eyes, while his father, Hashem, is blind every way but literally. While the son glories in everything his senses reveal, the father curses God for every seeming misfortune and desperately searches for ways to start his life over -- preferably without Mohammad to drag him down.

Iranian director Majid Majidi's sublime "The Color of Paradise" follows these opposing souls over the course of a summer spent in the northern Iranian countryside. Another in a series of Iranian films that uses children to quietly explore adult topics -- remember Jafar Panahi's "The White Balloon"? -- "Paradise" is a beautifully photographed, lovingly directed and wisely acted ode to making the best of what God gave you and the tragedy of what can happen when you refuse.

The movie opens with the start of summer vacation for students at a Tehran school for the blind. One by one, parents arrive to pick up their children, until only Mohammad is left. Hours pass, time the boy spends exploring his surroundings and enjoying their complex pleasures; he even hears the cry of a fallen baby bird, finds it, climbs a tree and replaces the bird in its nest. Young Mohsen Ramezani, who is sightless, brings an infectious joy to the role.

When Hashem (Hosein Mahjoob) arrives, he tries convincing school officials that Mohammad should stay where he is. It turns out this isn't the first time he's passed his son off on others and it won't be the last -- Mohammad's Granny (83-year-old Salameh Feyzi) has had far more to do with raising the boy than his father.

Hashem doesn't want the bother, especially while he's trying to woo a young woman from a strict Islamic family, whom he thinks will see Mohammad's condition as evidence the family has been cursed by God.

So Mohammad gets handed off once again, this time as an apprentice to a blind woodworker. This doesn't sit well with Granny, who despairs at her son's selfishness and self-pity. Her actions, and the huge hole that his departure leaves in his family's lives, force Hashem to make tough decisions about the future.

"The Color of Paradise" is filled with simple pleasures, including wondrously natural performances from first-time actors Ramezani and Feyzi and a sound mix that helps the audience "see" the world much as Mohammad does.

True, there's nothing really new in "The Color of Paradise" -- the plot can be summed up in the old adage about none being so blind as those who refuse to see. But watching the story unfold through Majidi's loving eyes is a joy indeed.

`The Color of Paradise'

Starring Mohsen Ramezani, Hosein Mahjoob and Salameh Feyzi

Written and directed by Majid Majidi

Released by Sony Pictures Classics

Rated PG (adult emotions)

Running time 90 minutes

Sun score * * *

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