Directed by Jafar Panahi and written by the acclaimed filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, the Iranian picture, The White Balloon (2005), is talky but brilliant. At the center here is the childish desire for a chubby, not a skinny, goldfish for an Iranian New Year’s celebration. A childish desire, this, because in fact it belongs to a child—seven-year-old Razieh (Aida Mohammed-Khani)—who lives with her parents and her brother Ali (Mohsen Khalifi) in Tehran.
Rezieh’s hard-working mother un-eagerly gives Razieh money with which to buy the goldfish, but the girl loses the money down a grate. Much of the film concerns the efforts of Razieh and her brother, aware of financial hardship, to retrieve the 500-toman note.
Though adorable, Razieh, like Ali, is being shaped by the prejudices of her society. She will probably never respect, as Ali does not, a man like the one she encounters and talks with: a non-Tehranian army conscript with an accent. And she will probably never smile on an Afghan person like the boy who sells balloons on the Tehran streets for a living, who, indeed, offers the kind of white balloon found enticing by Ali. But Ali never comments on the balloon since it is an Afghan boy who is selling it. It is clear that the film is saying that Iranian society is one of prejudice and loneliness—even that it is damaging: e.g., Ali may have been hit in the face by his father.
Years after seeing The White Balloon at the theatre, surprisingly I saw it for free on YouTube. Perfectly directed (with many a tight shot) and cleverly photographed, it is about children or childhood only on its surface. It is beautifully subtle.
(In Farsi with English subtitles)