The White Balloon

on January 24, 1996 by Kevin Courrier
   On the surface, this deceptively simple but poignant little picture is about a naive seven-year-old girl, Razieh (Aida Mohammadkhani), who on the eve of the Iranian New Year sets out in the streets of Teheran to buy a goldfish but loses her money. What makes the movie rich in meaning is how Razieh's ensuing search for the cash in the crowded streets brings her into contact with the very people from which her protective mother has shielded her. A motley group of snake charmers, distracted shopkeepers, a kindly old woman, a homesick soldier and a young balloon-selling refugee help open the girl's eyes to the frustrating and puzzling complexities of the adult world.
   In directing his debut feature (made for Iranian TV outlet IRIB), Jafar Panahi displays an uncanny ability to dramatize this child's view of a kaleidoscopic society without making a fetish of her perspective. As Razieh, Mohammadkhani gives a finely textured performance. As Razieh's beleaguered brother, Mohsen Kalifi brings humorous shadings to his reluctant efforts to protect his sister. "The White Balloon" captured the Camera d'Or, an International Critics Prize and the Prix Cicae at this year's Cannes. With its deft mixture of charm and compassion, it's not hard to see why.    Starring Aidi Mohammadkhani and Mohsen Kalifi. Directed by Jafar Panahi. Written by Abbas Kiaro-stami. Production manager: Kurosh Mazkouri. An October release. Drama. Iranian-language; subtitled. Not yet rated. Running time: 85 min.
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