The White Balloon (1995)

“One hundred tomans! You want to pay one hundred tomans for a goldfish. You can watch two films with that money. You’re nuts.”

‘The White Balloon’, directed by Jafar Panahi and written by Abbas Kiarostami in 1995, is an Iranian movie. It follows a small girl, Razieh, played by Aida Mohammadkhani, in the hours leading to the Iranian New Year as she first tries to convince her mother to let her buy a goldfish, and then tries to retrieve the money she finally elicits from her mother when she drops it down a grating into a shop cellar. Aside from the closing moments, the film is entirely told from her level, the camera following her on her series of challenges and quests. The small significance of the incidents in the film conceal a surprisingly profound commentary on the nature of childhood and the alien species that adults can be to a child. Every encounter Razieh has with an adult is undermined by a threat or suspicion, mostly created by the way Panahi places the viewer on her level. The trick in the film is that the threat of these encounters never develops into real jeopardy for Razieh, Panahi ensures that goodwill always wins through in the end. The final scenes of the film in which an Afghan boy, a seller of balloons, retrieves the money for Razieh but is then abandoned by the community of people we have met through the girl’s quest, undercut this sense of togetherness. The final shot is of the boy alone, much like Truffaut’s final freeze frame in ‘The 400 Blows’, trapped at the moment of a celebration he doesn’t seem to share with only a white balloon for company. It’s an engaging movie that manages to develop real tension from small events, the neo-realist style Panahi adopts creates a sense of immersion in the girl’s hunt for the money and desire for the goldfish, but it is that last moment that really sticks in the mind, and forces you to reassess everything you’ve seen previously.

Would I recommend it? Yes – possibly in a double bill with one of the Italian neo-realist films. Either Vittorio De Sica’s ‘Bicycle Theives’ or ‘Umberto D.’, movies that take real people, place them in understated situations and demonstrate how life changing they can be.

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