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Children of Paradise: Mohsen Ramezani (left) and Elham Sharin in 'The Color of Paradise.'

True Vision

Writer/director Majid Majidi's 'The Color of Paradise' offers a hauntingly beautiful fable

By Nicole McEwan

'THINK OF ALL THE beauty still left around you and be happy," wrote Anne Frank in Diary of a Young Girl. Frank's words, written under the direst of circumstances, recall a moral that has echoed through movie theaters recently.

Sam Mendes' Academy Award-winning American Beauty presented a portrait of an American family too inured by self-absorption and the quest for unattainable perfection to process its own comfort and joy. Though filmed halfway around the world, a similar moral rests at the heart of Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi's The Color of Paradise.

A hauntingly beautiful fable of a blind boy's redemption through faith, the film depicts the spiritual impoverishment of a father whose relative blessings are rendered insignificant by his bitterness over his young son's blindness. In stark contrast is the 8-year-old Mohammad (Mohsen Ramezani), whose delight in the natural world and capacity for love has only been heightened by his handicap.

In the film's opening sequence, this difference in perspective is thrown into sharp relief. Mohammad is shown leaving school on the last day before a three-month vacation. While the other blind children are greeted lovingly by their families before being whisked away, the dejected boy waits alone. Distracted by his surroundings, he passes the time exploring and digging in the dirt beneath a tree. Finding a stranded baby bird among the leaves, he listens carefully until he locates its mother in the tree above, and reunites them. Meanwhile, Mohammad's own fate is far more tenuous.

His father, a widowed coal-miner, finally appears and implores the teacher to keep Mohammad over vacation. Turned down, Hashem grudgingly gathers up the child and sets off for the family farm in northern Iran. His gloomy demeanor cannot disguise the contempt he feels for his son.

Nonetheless, Mohammad revels in the symphony of sounds and smells emanating from the lush flower fields, the teeming stream and the densely thicketed woods they traverse. Once home, he takes comfort in his doting and deeply religious grandmother and his two exuberant little sisters. Tranquility sets in, as they spend their days frolicking in the natural splendor alluded to in the film's title.

Because this is Eden, peace is unavoidably short-lived. Fearing his son's blindness will complicate his plans to marry a beautiful young Islamic woman, Hashem sends the boy away to apprentice with a blind carpenter, a selfish act which does not go unpunished.

In a film already heavy with religious symbolism, Mohammad's future profession nearly tips the film into allegorical overload. Still, cinematographer Mohammad Davudi's outstanding sense of color and composition and Ramezani's searingly poignant performance balance out the film's maudlin leanings.

Ultimately, The Color of Paradise, with its pure-of-heart-protagonist, is not unlike Majidi's Academy Award-nominated Children of Heaven in its passionate exaltation of the innocence of children. Though sightless, Mohammad, unlike his father, refuses to go through life with blinders on.

The Color of Paradise (PG; 90 min.) written and directed by Majid Majidi, photographed by Mohammad Davudi and starring Mohsen Ramezani, Hossein Mahjoub and Salime Feizi, opens Friday in Menlo Park at the Guild and in San Jose at the Towne Theater.

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From the April 6-12, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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