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Rang-e khoda (The Color of Paradise)

The purpose of Been-Seen's Movie Atlas is to show you countries you may not have had the chance to visit, to give you a feel for somewhere you might like to travel to. I have never been to Iran, so I find myself watching Iranian films to better understand what the country is like. This is especially important to me because I'm half-Persian and yet, for mostly political reasons, I have never been there. Rang-e-khoda is one of the best Iranian movies I've seen. Iran's submission in the Best Foreign Film category for the 2000 Oscars, it has been acclaimed for its vivid cinematography, which gives viewers a great opportunity to see what this mostly unknown country is like.

Directed by Majid Majidi (who also created the beautiful Children of Heaven), the film starts at Tehran's Institute for the Blind, where a young blind boy, Mohammad, waits for his father to pick him up for the holidays. Children of Heaven was dusty, less colorful and set on the city streets. In this film, the view of the city is only brief before Mohammad leaves with his father to the countryside. (However, there is one aerial shot of Tehran, above, which gives you a good overview of what the city looks like.)

The countryside is not what you might expect of a Middle Eastern country. In fact it looks a little like Switzerland, even Japan, with green rolling hills and flowery meadows. Mohammad, played movingly by Mohsen Ramezani (who in real life is blind), has a vivid imagination, which is awakened by this beautiful landscape. He explores minute details of it with his hands. He runs his hands through a stream, finding braille letters in the pebbles. He goes with his grandmother to light candles by a tiny mosque. They dye fabrics in huge cooking pots. It's deeply sensual, in a gentle defiance of Mohammad's lack of sight. The soundtrack is also alive with sound (birds cheeping and insects buzzing), as the little boy's world must be.

Tragically, Mohammad's father is crippled by resentment, feeling betrayed by a God who would give him a blind son, denying his existence in the hopes of marrying a woman much younger than himself. Although the boy excels at school, his father takes him to a blind carpenter to serve as an apprentice. The little boy pours out his heart to the carpenter, wondering why he is banished for being blind. He also tearfully explains how he asked his teacher why God would make him blind and therefore unable to see him. His teacher replied that God is invisible and is everywhere, and you can see him with your fingertips. So this is what he does. This is how he relates to the world, through the senses that he can use. It's a lesson, of course, to all of us – to work with our limitations, to transcend them. To appreciate the beauty of the world around us, no matter how hard it may seem.

Acclaimed as an achingly beautiful fairytale of poetic simplicity and purity, The Color of Paradise was an eye-opener for me. I've seen many images of Tehran's dusty city streets, but I have rarely seen the countryside. And it is so different. I haven't been able to find exact filming locations, but one suggestion was that it was filmed by the Caspian Sea, a popular holiday destination for city dwellers. It's a beautiful movie, both visually and spiritually. You may not be planning to travel to Iran, but if you choose to visit it through this film, I think you'll be glad you did. – Roshan McArthur

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  • Obenauer

    April 9, 2017

    This is in the Caspian Sea area of Iran, but most of the Iranian countryside is not green.

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