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THE COLOR OF PARADISE (2000) (***1/2)

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Right now there is a renaissance of sorts going on in Iran. As the country becomes more liberal and moves closer to democracy, art is peaking, especially film. Some of the most successful films of late at international film fests have been Iranian. Majid Majidi, director of this film, was nominated for an Oscar for his CHILDREN OF HEAVEN in 1998, the only Iranian filmmaker to ever receive an Academy Award nod. For COLOR OF PARADISE, the simple story about a blind boy and his family is so tender and absorbing that it grips you from the first frame to the last.

The widowed father is searching for a new wife from a rich family and wants a way of "ridding" himself of the burden of his blind eight-year-old son. Mohammad (Mohsen Ramezani), the blind boy, is full of life and likes learning at the school for the blind the same things seeing children learn. Mohammad is not completely unloved, cared for by his grandmother (Salameh Feyzi), his older sister (Farahnaz Safari) and younger sister (Elham Sharifi). His father Hashem (Hossein Mahjoub) finally finds the boy an apprenticeship with a blind carpenter. While the opportunity looks good for Hashem, he underestimates what his son can do, and more so doesn't care what he wants.

The film completely understands the innocence of children and the selfishness of the adult world. The whole picture rings entirely true. While the plot might sound melodramatic, director Majid Majidi presents his story so directly that it avoids any kind of false emotional manipulation. Ramezani is a natural performer, captivating the audience with his honesty. When he cries about his condition it's not to court our pity, but to express his real inner turmoil. He has learned a great deal of wisdom in his eight years on Earth.

The film is dedicated to God and truly is one of the best spiritual films I've ever seen. The film moves beyond specific boundaries of religious beliefs and gives praise to God for all of his creations. Along with cinematographer Mohammad Davudi and sound designer Mohammad Reza Delpak, Majidi captures the beauty of the natural world with such grace. The end might seem contrived, but miracles are still a pure truth in countries like Iran and I hope the country's move into modernity does not destroy the tender innocence that this film presents. Majidi for sure isn't interested in telling stories that have a toy line tie-in.

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Rick DeMott
Animation World Network
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