NYFF 99: Majidi Transcends with Rich, Haunting "Color of Heaven"
by Stephen Garrett
Mixing vivid sensory experiences with traditional narrative storytelling, then adding a striking mytho-religious dimension, Majid Majidi's "The Color of Heaven" proves to be a powerfully effective parable about a father's tortured love for his handicapped son, who despite his blindness and family poverty has an unerring sense of optimism and joy for life. As in his previous film, the emotionally complex and tragically ironic "Children of Heaven," Majidi again returns to a story about children, using them to chart a framework of innocence and best intentions in a sometimes jaded world where good deeds can be almost as damaging as bad.
Eight-year old Mohammad Ramezani is a bright, clever student at a prep school for the blind in Teheran. When school lets out for the summer, everyone's parents come to pick up the children except Mohammad's dad, Hashem Ramezani; and Mohammad is left waiting for hours, not knowing when or if his father is coming. To pass the time, Mohammad hears a baby bird crying in the nearby woods, and follows the sound until he finds it. Pocketing the weak bird, Mohammad then uses his ears to locate the bird nest from which the baby fell, and climbs up a tree to place the bird back in the nest.
A remarkable scene not only for its purely cinematic expression of sounds and images, the saving of the bird also illustrates Mohammad's attitude about life: despite his blindness, he still sees himself able not just to function but to contribute to the world around him.
When Hashem finally arrives, he is clearly distressed and awkwardly tries to pawn Mohammad off on the school's teachers, asking them if they can take care of his son for the three months' break until school starts again. Denied, Hashem reluctantly takes the boy with him back home to the country, where Mohammad's two sisters Hanieh and Bahareh and his grandmother all wait for him with loving, open arms. Mohammad clearly embraces the rural life, drinking in the sounds and textures of his surroundings with bliss and contentment. But bitter Hashem, a widower, still wears his resentment on his sleeve, feeling that God has cursed him by taking away his wife prematurely and burdening him with a blind son - a son who will always need someone's help and who himself will not be able to take care of Hashem as the years go by.
Eager to remarry, Hashem aggressively courts a local girl, but eventually even that doesn't pan out. And despite Mohammad's willingness to apprentice under a blind carpenter, Hashem still doesn't see any promise in his son. By the end, Hashem is confronted with unexpected tragedy and has to reconcile his own pessimism in the face of a sudden despair which, despite its sadness, still shines with the glow of redemption and hope that his son always maintains. Sometimes dreamlike, at other times hyper-realistic, Majidi's filmmaking style is not only unique but perfectly suited to his material, conveying subject matter reminiscent of Krzysztof Kieslowski's cinema, in which fate, will and chance always collide in surprisingly profound ways.
But Majidi's visual sensibility remains uniquely Iranian, particularly in this film, where certain scenes recall Mohsen Makhmalbaf's most recent work, "The Silence," in its representation of children experiencing the tiny nuances of their surroundings. Emotionally rich and truly haunting, "The Color of Heaven" only heightens the stature of Majidi in a national cinema already noted for its distinguished collection of remarkably original auteurs.