April 1, 2000 [The Color of Paradise]

In an Iran so ancient it seems imaginary, Zoroaster looked up and beseeched the Universe to tell him the truth--which it did; and in the impossibly green Persian valleys he accepted it like the pistachios gathering in the trees all around him--and they’re big ones: I’ve seen pistachios from Iran, just when the revolution struck, a gift from home that a co-worker had received.  While the hostage crisis turned all hearts to stone, he wandered from desk to desk, dropping conciliatory little piles of pistachios at each--I thought they were almonds at first, they were so big--and without a word went back to his desk.  I can still hear the quiet snap and rattle as we ate his pistachios, perfect unsalted reminders of the Fertile Crescent, the Cradle of Civilization, the site of the Garden of Eden--the almost proto-human mythologies I learned in school and glanced at in books that were hurrying toward the Greeks and Christians.

I thought of those pale smooth nuts while watching The Color of Paradise.  The sweet little blind boy’s widowed father scorns him--not in anger but heartbreak, his loneliness driving him to send the boy away as he seeks a new wife.  With unashamed lyricism the movie shows the child’s worth early on when he rescues a baby bird that’s fallen out of its nest--a Big Symbolic Moment whose aggressive insistence I could forgive--the boy is such a treasure--his grandmother, his sisters, his teachers, everyone knows it--even his father; but he won’t hold this treasure to his chest, to protect it and keep it from all robbers, but sends the boy away to a blind carpenter--who hears the boy mourn his own loneliness, his own disappointed life.  The boy says that he reaches out to God every day with his fingers, trying to touch Him and tell Him all his secrets. To listen to him say this and not be moved would be a terrible, final judgment on your heart of stone.

For the director, Majid Majidi, The Color of Paradise is a prayer, a cry in the wilderness--the loving, pleading answer to the animal yelp heard in the wild, the movie’s sign that predators lurk--as well as its reminder that, while it takes so little to escape the animal in the woods, few can manage the courage to cut down the lethal loneliness and accept the beauty missed as we cover our tear-blind eyes with our hands, reaching inward instead of out and up.


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