nonhuman-III Ghﬂdhood innocence
A low key Iranian ﬁlm has set a high standard for future arthouse releases in 1996. Trevor Johnston praises The White Balloon.
Yes, I know it sounds like something out of pseud's comer: an Iranian ﬁlm about a little girl trying to buy a goldﬁsh. being greeted with the words ‘exquisite' and ‘masterpiece' from the usual motley collection of (would be) highbrow pundits. If you were really cynical. you could even reckon The White Balloon was a sort of goatee- stroking cn'tic's wet dream: it‘s by a ﬁrst-time director nobody's ever heard of! It's got non-professional actors! It‘s about the most tnundane events! It won both the Camera D'Or and the lntemational Critics Pn'ze at Cannes! Lots to salivate over there, mes braves, huh?
And yet. And yet. And yet. All this viewer can do is place hand on heart and confess that this small. 88-minute movie about the Iranian equivalent of Hogmanay absolutely knocked me over. Had it come out last year. it would‘ve been up there with La Haine
and Chungking EXpress as my ﬁlms of the year. As it is, it's already vying for the Best of 96 listing. and it's only January.
So what’s the big secret, then? Well, it may have something to do with simplicity, with innocence, and with a ﬁlmmaker who knows exactly what he wants and how to get it. You don't need to know anything about lranian cinema to enjoy this ﬁlm, but when 35-year-old writer-director Jafar Panahi says he‘s still ‘very much connected to my childhood'. that gives some indication of its special appeal.
lt's New Year‘s Eve (in Iran. the exact moment of the new year is calculated by the solstice and the movement of the sun right down to the exact second), and wee Razieh (Aida Mohammad- khani) has decided the goldﬁsh she has
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The White Balloon: ‘pure and timeless'
at home don't have groovy enough ﬁns for her really to be able to enjoy the celebrations properly. The one back in the shop was much better. Ergo. she pesters her mum into giving her the household’s last 500 toman note. and
‘Untolding in real time, the whole thing is as nerve-wrecking as any Hitchcock thiller’
off she goes into the mean streets of Tehran — where she encounters snake charmers. grumpy old tailors. dodgy looking soldiers. a lonely Afghan balloon-seller (the key to the ﬁlm's title, which falls into place during the very last scene) —— and promptly loses her money down a grating. What to do?
Her mum's going to kill her. her bigger brother will make her life a misery. and the goldﬁsh shop is about to shut down for the holiday. Nightmare!
Unfolding in real time. the whole thing is as nerve-wracking as any Hitchcock thiller. and it's unsurprising that the master of suspense is one of the Westem ﬁlmmakers that Panahi cites as his inﬂuences. From Buﬁuel too he may have taken the ﬁlm's formal classicism. while its wonderful affection for its characters and the truths of its details Panahi ascribes to his mentor. lranian auteur Abbas Kiarostami. who's widely respected in Europe but whose ﬁlms (Through The Olive Trees) really only appear at festivals over here. Panahi has, in fact. followed his methods of great care in casting non-actors and of never showing the performers the script.
‘I don't want them to act in front of the camera. I want them to live.’ he says. and his words are borne out by the sheer intensity of seven-year-old Mohammadkhani's absolutely mesmerising presence. one of the great children‘s performances in world cinema. You simply won't believe how touching she is until you see The White Balloon. one of those rare ﬁlms which confound the escalating levels of technology, violence and irony that deﬁne our contemporary cinema. and which creates something so pure and timeless it reawakens your faith in the medium of cinema itself. Quite amazing really.
The White Balloon opens at the Cameo. Edinburgh. on Fri 12 Jan. before going on to the Film/rouse on Sat 27.
‘.A MINOR MASTERPIECE...
SO SIMPLEIIT VERGES ON THE SUBLIME’
Whit‘ © Balloon
a film by JAFAR PANAHI
‘A FILM OF ENORMOUS HEART LAND INTELLIGENCE’
mm W CAMERA ecto PRIZE FIPRESCI o'on room PRIZE
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26 The List I2-25 Jan I996