The Colour of Paradise

Iran 1999

Reviewed by Jonathan Romney


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

Eight-year-old Mohammad stays at an institute for blind children in Tehran. At the end of term, his widowed father Hashem asks Mohammad's teachers to keep the boy over the holidays. They refuse and Hashem reluctantly takes Mohammad back to their village in northern Iran. There, the boy is reunited with his grandmother and his young sisters Hanyeh and Bahareh.

Hashem starts courting a young woman; her family agrees a marriage date and Hashem works hard to pay for the gifts. Hashem takes Mohammad away to be apprenticed to a carpenter. Mohammad's grandmother argues with Hashem over his selfishness; when she dies, Hashem's prospective in-laws cancel the wedding, believing he brings bad luck. Hashem collects Mohammad from the carpenter's and takes him home through a wood. A bridge collapses under them and Mohammad is carried down river through rapids. Swimming after him, Hashem wakes on a shore and is grief-stricken on finding Mohammad apparently dead, but the boy's hand responds to a ray of sunlight.


While casting for his previous film Children of Heaven, director Majid Majidi visited a school for blind children, and was intrigued enough to explore the theme of blindness further in The Colour of Paradise. Not surprisingly, The Colour of Paradise's early scenes, which explore the relationship between the blind children at Mohammad's school and their environment, contain the film's real substance. There's an appealing quasi-documentary quality here, one that's shared by the development of the film's most engaging relationship, between young Mohammad and his jovial teacher. At one point, the teacher keeps Mohammad amused by joking about the boy's mobile phone - in reality, a soap dish. These early sequences concisely and inventively demonstrate how a blind child eager for knowledge can not only explore the known universe but also recreate it as an imaginative playground. Guided by touch and sound, Mohammad rescues a fallen chick and returns it to its nest: the images of the boy poking his fingers at the chick's open beak, or of his legs scrabbling against a tree trunk, demonstrate Majidi's acute sense of tactility and detail.

But once Mohammad's moody, embittered father Hashem turns up, the film takes a banal melodramatic turn. The point is quickly made that while Mohammad truly sees the world, his sighted father is really the blind one: a redemption is clearly in the offing. Majidi's mise en scène underscores the different ways man and boy see life: while Hashem toils away in a hard, grey world of coal, Mohammad is heir to a environment of vivid colour, best evoked by an almost abstract sequence in which the screen is filled with flowers and the natural dyes they produce.

Majidi may be emphasising the intensity of the boy's inner sight in such idyllic-looking sequences, but this tactic takes the film into the realm of kitsch. The boy's grandmother is flawlessly smiling and sweet-natured, his sisters perfect bucolic little angels, and even the reds, yellows and pink of the flowers in the landscape seem to belong more to nursery wallpaper than the natural world. Perhaps the landscape of northern Iran really is this florid, but it might have been more aesthetically effective had Majidi chosen a valley a little less like the Tyrol of The Sound of Music (1965).

While it comes as a relief that Hashem is ultimately redeemed by last-minute celestial intervention rather than the innocent teaching of his life-loving child, the ending is clumsy and manipulative. The finale, involving a perilous tumble down river, is awkwardly edited and less than thrilling, and the glimmer of sunlight on Mohammad's hand, betokening God's redemptive touch, is rather anti-climactic after the more menacing divine presence experienced by Hashem as an ominous boom in the woods. (The original title actually means The Colour of God, which would seem to emphasise the film's pantheistic message, rather than themes of mortality and earthly idyll.)

The film comes alive in a few sequences, but these stand out incongruously from the whole: the otherwise two-dimensional lost soul Hashem, for instance, has some nice moments, courting his bride-to-be like a nervous youth. As Mohammad, Mohsen Ramezani is an enthusiastic, vivacious presence, although you rather wish for some of the abrasive matter-of-factness of the children in Abbas Kiarostami's films (for instance, Where is My Friend's House, 1989). You can see why Majidi's work has been distributed in the US by Miramax - this is very much the marketable face of Iran's cinema of childhood, a pastoral symphony that pales beside the hard simplicity of, say, Samira Makhmalbaf's The Apple or Jafar Panahi's The White Balloon. And it might have helped if some of the subtitles ("Beautiful Granny! I am over here!"; "Dear Bahareh! Go and gather alfalfa!") hadn't read quite so much like parodies of international art-house ruralism.


Majid Majidi
Mehdi Mahabadi
Ali Ghaem Maghami
Mohsen Sarab
Majid Majidi
Director of Photography
Hashem Attar
Hassan Hassandoost
Production Designer
Masood Madadi
Ali Reza Kohandiri
Production Company
Varahonar Company
Executive Producer
Mehdi Karimi
Production Managers
Mohamad Karimi
Ali Kalij
Location Manager
Naser Derakhshan
Assistant Directors
Javad Kasehsaz
Ali Sabzevari
Behzad Rafice
Camera Operator
Mohamad Davoudi
Special Effects
Majid Soleimani
Reza Torkaman
Costume Designer
Asghar Negademani
Mohsen Mossavi
Rayane Eilmsaz
Asadollah Majidi
Location Sound Recording
Mohamad Feisalpor
Hossein Bashash
Yadollah Najafi
Sound Unit
Hora Maleki
Reza Narimizade
Ali Noori
Sound Mix
Mohamad Delpak
Hossein Mahjub
Hashem, the father
Mohsen Ramezani
Salime Feiza
Farnaz Saffati
Bahareh, big sister
Elham Sharifi
Hanyeh, little sister
Behzad Rafice
village teacher
Mohamad Rahmani
Morteza Fatemi
Kamal Mirkarimi
Masoome Zinati
young woman
Zahra Mizani
Ahmad Aminian
young wife's father
Moghadam Behboodi
village headmaster
GanAli Khorami
Optimum Releasing
8,102 feet
90 minutes 1 second
In Colour
transliterated Iranian theatrical title
Ranghe Khoda
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011