Film Scouts Reviews

"Badkonake Sefid (The White Balloon)"

by Henri Béhar

A seven-year old Iranian girl wants to buy a gold fish to celebrate the New Year. She convinces her mother to give her the money, rushes through the market, has the dough almost swindled by devious snake charmers, runs through the streets, loses the money, sits on a grid waiting for someone to help her retrieve the precious banknote that's fallen out of her reach.

That's it, that's all, and, as scripted by Abbas Kiarostami ("Through the Olive Trees") and filmed by first-time director (and former Kiarostami assistant) Jafa Panahi, that's a whole lot. Relatively free of thorny religious and political issues, "Children's movies" are a comparably "safe" proposition in Iranian cinema. Think of it, however, as a variation of Italian neo-realism--compassion, humanity-- with more than a dash of humor. Panahi captures Tehran as a bustling city full of both ordinary and unusual people. The film is a thrill precisely because it is a modest, almost miniature-like, endeavor. Each individual character, major or minor, is splendidly well-defined. The acting is invisible (I mean it as a compliment), and I defy anyone not to fall in love with the seven-year old actress who plays Razieh with a miraculous refusal of terminal cuteness (No Hughes-ian Spielbergitis here)

One hopes Kiarostami and Panahi have it in their contract that under no circumstances are remake rights to be sold. One cringes at the idea of a Culkinized version.

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