The Color of Paradise (2000)
Written & Directed by Majid Majidi
One thing I came into this film series was wondering what influence the Islamic religion would have on these films. Iran is a type of presidential democracy with a co-equal (or maybe more powerful) theocratic branch. The revolution in 1979 had a significant influence on pushing Islam to the forefront of every aspect of Iranian life. As a Westerner, my perspective on Islam has been shaped by a strong Judeo-Christian bias in my youth. Now that I’m an adult, I can see with much greater clarity and have a better understanding of religion and dogma.
I grew up in a religious family, a very Conservative Christian where being Christ-like is often overridden by naked nationalism. I can remember going to some old lady’s house for a children’s Bible class and watching her act out a heavily propagandized piece of anti-Iran trash with felt cut-outs on an easel. All this to say, while I am more open-minded, I know I am still woefully ignorant of the nuance and diversity of thought within the umbrella of Islam.
Mohammed is a young blind boy sent away to a specialized school in Tehran for most of the year. Summer break has arrived, and he finds himself waiting longer than every other student for his reluctant and ashamed father, Hashem, to pick him up. Hashem is a single father with two daughters in addition to Mohammed. Mohammed’s grandmother lives with the family to help in the care of the children. Hashem is also currently courting a woman in the village and feels Mohammed will drive her away or at least embarrass his household. Mohammed, on the other hand, has not allowed his disability to inhibit himself, and he has a passion for learning and exploring the world.
Never once did the spiritual messages of The Color of Paradise feel like propaganda or proselytizing for any specific religion. The beauty that exists within Mohammed feels transcendental, and the film’s portrayal of God is magnificent. God is essentially nature throughout the movie, specifically birds. We first see this connection when Mohammed hears a baby bird has fallen from its nest and manages to protect it from a hungry cat. Using only hearing and touch, he rescues the animal and returns it to the tree. We’ll see this act paralleled in his grandmother saving an animal and his father ignoring one who is suffering. The sound of birds is also a sign of joy for Mohammed. He gets solitary moments standing in the middle of nature, and the audience follows the focus of his hearing.
The tone of The Color of Paradise is reminiscent of American films from the silent era. The plot focuses on people living in impoverished but happy situations. The characters aren’t really developed in a hyper-detailed way but serve to represent archetypes. The narrative is never drug down, and every scene moves us along. Yet, director Majidi finds moments to stop and breathe, focusing on the beauty around Mohammed. Despite being a film in Iran spoken in Farsi, everything about The Color of Paradise is rooted in the foundations of cinema. It touches on those silent era morality tales while giving nods to the Italian neo-realism of the 1950s and 60s.
The relationship the film chooses to focus on is Hashem and Mohammed’s. For all of its deceptive simplicity, the emotional depth between the father and son is profound. The movie goes to some genuinely dark & harrowing places with these two, especially in the film’s third act. This is a film you could watch with your family yet still spend days after pondering over. The final scene is ambiguous and powerful, possibly moving from the concrete to the abstract, imbuing celestial power into the exploring hands of Mohammed. If you wanted to introduce Iranian cinema to someone who might otherwise have no interest, then The Color of Paradise could serve as a fantastic gateway.