The Color of Paradise (1999)

The Color of Paradise is one of those rare, rapturous films, a film that captures the sensations and experiences of its main character so well, that the audience is immersed into an existence alien and distant from their own. And yet, writer/director Majid Majidi gives the audience the pleasure and splendor that the protagonist is denied, but in such a way that shows the joyful sensory experience of its protagonist.

Mohammad (Mohsen Ramezani) is blind. He goes to a school with other blind children and demonstrates himself as one of the brightest students. But when the summer comes, his father (Hossein Mahjoub) is reluctant to take him home for the summer. Eventually, he does take Mohammad home, and he spends time with his two sisters (played by Farahnaz Safari and Elham Sharifi) and his grandmother (Salameh Feyzi). As the father plans his own future and the future of the son, he sets the two on different paths that threaten to tear the family apart.

Majidi’s screenplay does a fantastic job of setting the father up as a perfect antagonist for the story and yet never making him cruel. Yes, he does make some choices that seem cold and distant toward Mohammad, but Majidi shows that these choices are made more out of fear and desperation. The father doesn’t know how to handle such a child and he’s also caught in an awkward social circumstance where Mohammad could cost him his future.

Even if the audience doesn’t agree with the father’s choices, they are made sympathetic to his plight. He’s ill-equipped to raise this blind child in the small town they live in, even though this child desperately seeks his love and approval. And to give himself over to fully embrace the child risks sacrificing his own liveliness, welfare and standing in the community.

Most of the time, the audience spends time with Mohammad. While they get the see, the pleasure denied Mohammad, the film does a fantastic job of presenting the way Mohammad experiences the world. The long, lingering shots where Mohammad slowly, patiently feels the branches of a tree or the face of his sister display his meticulous gentleness and curiosity.

The lush, beautiful cinematography displaces the rampant imagination of Mohammad. While he is unable to see the sights that actually exist, he talks as if he can see and is often told to “look” at things by those around him. Also, the images present crisp textures and linger on them in such a way that the sensation of the tactile and matter of the object is conveyed through the imagery.

It’s the film’s overwhelming sympathy towards the characters that make The Color of Paradise an engaging emotional journey. Both Mohsen Ramezani and Hossein Mahjoub give fantastic performances the expressions on their faces enough to stir the audience. And Majid Majidi’s patience and ability to give a moment enough space and time for the audience to feel the weight of the emotion make it powerful without ever twisting the audience’s emotions through tricky camerawork or an overbearing score.

The Color of Paradise is a film about the splendor and heartache of life. Here is a world so joyful, beautiful and rapturous, but one is left lacking, blind to the world or blind to that which matters most in life. It finds pleasure in the smallest things, but isn’t afraid to delve deep into pangs of pain.

© 2012 James Blake Ewing