‘Balloon’ soars to cinematic heights
Iranian government asks Academy to withdraw film from Oscar
By Lael Loewenstein
Daily Bruin Staff
At first glance, "The White Balloon" is nothing more than the
story of a little girl who wants desperately to buy a goldfish. But
this extraordinary film by Iranian director Jafar Panahi is also a
deeply complex story that works on a plurality of levels.
The Camera d’Or winner at Cannes (for the best first feature
film by a director), "White Balloon" follows 7-year-old Razieh
(Aida Mohammadkhani), whose biggest dream is to buy a fancy,
multi-finned goldfish. With the help of her brother, Ali (Mohsen
Kalifi), Razieh convinces her reluctant mother to give her the
money for the fish, and the little girl ventures into downtown
Tehran, marching defiantly toward the goldfish store.
We quickly learn that Tehran is no place for little girls.
Before she can buy her fish, Razieh is drawn into a circle of snake
charmers who nearly swindle her out of her bank note. She recovers
the money, only to have it fall through a grate. Only when Ali
arrives looking for her and eventually convinces an Afghan balloon
seller to help them can Razieh recover her money – and buy her
The towering achievement of "The White Balloon" is Jafar
Panahi’s direction, apparent throughout, but most evident in the
snake charming sequence. With the camera planted firmly at Razieh’s
eye level, Panahi plays the scene for suspense and intimidation.
Knowing she has ventured into a forbidden zone, little Razieh’s
reaction to the crafty snake charmers is a palpable mixture of
terror and guilt. In its own way, this particular scene is as
harrowing as any moment of torture, abuse or manipulation yet
Panahi never plays down to Razieh; he respects her and the
magnitude of her predicament. He also carries off the impressive
feat of making the adults’ world seem far more chaotic and less
logical than that of the children.
Beyond that, Panahi elucidates the injustices – sexual,
cultural, political – in Iranian society. It’s a world where
children are forbidden from contradicting adults and where women
are forbidden from addressing men. If the film is regarded as
subversive, it must be for these reasons: Though it had been
submitted as Iran’s official contender for the Best Foreign Film
Oscar, the Iranian government has asked that it be withdrawn from
consideration. The Academy refused.
As Razieh, Aida Mohammadkhani is impressively natural. Whether
knotting her brow or breaking into a radiant smile, she is
sympathetic and lovely. In one scene, as she chats with a soldier
while sitting on the grate where she’s lost her money, she enacts a
womanly gesture, spreading out her red, ruffled skirt on either
side and pulling it delicately over her knees. The careful detail
of that moment and the quiet strength of this film help make it a
This film gets an A.
Film: "The White Balloon." Directed by Jafar Panahi. Written by
Abbas Kiarostami. Starring AÃ¯da Mohammadkhani and Mohsen
Kalifi. Opens today.Comments to [email protected]