School is out for the summer and Mohammad is waiting at his school for the blind in Tehran for his father to take him home, excited that he will soon be playing in the fields with his little sisters and grandmother. For Mohammad, blindness is no hindrance either to his education or his appreciation of nature’s wonders. His father, however, is a widower struggling to look after his two daughters and his elderly mother and is having trouble dealing with Mohammad’s blindness. Deciding that he can no longer care for Mohammad, he takes him to live and work with a blind carpenter, but this causes much grief and despair for both Mohammad and his grandmother, leading ultimately to tragedy.
Following closely in the footsteps of his Academy Award nominated Children of Heaven (1997), with Colour of Paradise, Majidi has produced a deeply affecting drama of childhood strength and determination in the face of adversity. The narrative revolves around young Mohammad, played with remarkable skill by non-professional actor Mohsen Ramezani, who is really blind. Through Mohammad, Majidi evokes a world of beauty, colour, love and wonder. Although this is a world Mohammad cannot see with his eyes, he interacts with and experiences this world though his senses of touch and audition. Furthermore, for him, the world is not something merely to be lived in or experience, but to be communicated with. Mohammad’s fingers ‘read’ the stones in the river, or a stalk of wheat, mouthing the sounds of the alphabet just as he has learnt in his Braille lessons. Similarly, the sounds of the woodpecker constitute a secret language − not dissimilar to the tap-tap-tap of the Braille machine − a language which not only binds Mohammad to the natural world, but as his name might suggest, also to the spiritual world.
For the viewer, Majidi uses a range of cinematic devices to convey the richness of Mohammad’s world, which is suggestively not dark at all but richly coloured and textured. For his visually oriented spectators, Majidi provides many wide shots of sweeping fields of colour to convey not only the visual beauty of the landscape surrounding Mohammad’s home village, but to enable us to feel Mohammad’s oneness with nature as he runs unassisted through the landscape. In fact, it is not just Mohammad, but his sisters and grandmother who comfortably inhabit this space, in which work and play are combined in a highly idealized representation of village life. Mohammad and his sisters help collect the flowers that will be boiled to make the colourful dyes for the rugs that are made in the village. Majidi’s camera lingers over the boiling vats of bright colour, reminding us of the integral connection between nature and culture. As in Makhmalbaf’s Gabbeh (1996), a strong connection between traditional arts such as rug-making and cinema is inferred, suggesting the deep link between the wealth of nature and the rich possibilities of the cinematic medium, which in Majidi’s hands is one more of poetry than of narrative, recalling the vast tradition of Sufi poetry, which frequently cast human endeavour through the metaphorical evocation of the natural world.
This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in Majidi’s use of the soundtrack to contrast Mohammad and his father’s (played by Hossein Mahjoub) views of the natural world. Throughout the film, Majidi appropriately uses point of audition techniques to allow us to hear/see the world through Mohammad’s perspective. In fact, the emphasis placed on the act of hearing in the early stages of the film assists to re-orient the spectator towards ‘hearing’ rather than merely looking for details. This technique is exemplified in an early scene when Mohammad is waiting for his father alone in the school grounds. Mohammad reacts to a faint tweeting sound. As he turns his ear toward the sound, it becomes slightly louder, suggesting that Mohammad has now focused upon the sound. As he slowly tracks the sound into the bushes, the ambient noises of the city heard earlier fall away, the sound of the distressed bird tweeting now mixes with other sounds located in Mohammad’s immediate surrounds: the sound of his breath and his feet crunching the dried leaves on the ground. As Mohammad finds the bird, climbs a tree and places the chick safely in its nest, we are not only given a glimpse into Mohammad’s compassionate and determined personality, but we gain some insight into how he expertly navigates the world through senses other than sight. For Mohammad the sounds of the natural world are pleasant and filled with hope and God’s love, but for his father, sound comes to represent fear and the darkened world of despair. This may be witnessed in a scene in which he shaves at the riverbank. As he runs the blade over his face, he is startled by a rather foreboding whooping sound created by some distant, unknown creature. This causes him not only to cut his face, drawing blood, but to drop the mirror, which cracks on the rocks. The next view of his face that we see is reflected in this broken mirror, an image that sadly foreshadows the tragic events that are to come. Such sounds do not form part of Mohammad’s soundscape, but throughout the film, we observe his father being increasingly troubled by them. They function ultimately as a sign that he has lost touch with both the natural world and with his son, his frightened reactions signifying his inability to communicate effectively with Mohammad, nor to understand his great capacity for independence.