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The White Balloon : Abbas Kiarostami Scripts A Children’s Movie

While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about

There are very few children’s movie that touch our heart. The last such good movie I had seen was Majid Majidi’s Children Of Heaven, which was made two years after this movie. What a nice, cute gem of a movie this is!

The movie took me back to the time when I was a 10 year old boy and my dad had handed me the grave responsibility of depositing Rs.10,000/- in his bank account. He gave me the accompanying paying-in slip and my face turned as pink as the slip itself. Although the bank was about half a kilometer away from our house, it seemed all so far on that particular day. I trudged along, all fidgety, with my hands inside my pockets clutching the bundle of notes. I was perspiring a bit, and it was not because of the summer heat since this happened in the winter of 1990.

the_white_balloonThe movie begins with Razieh who has been given a 500 tomans currency note on the eve of New Year to purchase a gift for herself, not exceeding 100 tomans. The entire movie revolves around this 500 currency note and her adventures at trying to buy a goldfish. At the face of it, it sounds quite ordinary but the manner in which she struggles from one incident to another is heart-touching.

Her first stop is at the roadside snake charmer and his accomplice, a dervish. They play all kinds of tricks with the currency note, first they take it right out of her small fish-bowl, later they place the note around a slithery snake and ask Razieh to pull it out on her own. Fear, anxiety, curiosity, gloom and finally a smile … all this happens in those five minutes that sees the note exchanging hands and finally making it back to her fish-bowl. The range of expressions that she displays in those 5 minutes is the highpoint of the movie.

I do recall that a few of those expressions were on my face when friends and neighbours waved at me when they walked past on that particular day, and all I could do was to smile back. Obviously I could not have removed my hands from the grasp of the bundle and waved back at them, I could have, but I dared not! I was anxious enough to reach the bank as soon as possible, before I could encounter a few more known faces and give them sheepish grins.

I did reach the bank and was mighty relieved as was Razieh when she reached the gift-shop. But unlike me, she was in for a rude shock. After having bargained with the store-keeper for a plump and chubby goldfish, she was dumbfounded when she found that her fishbowl is empty and that she has managed to lose the money again. I too had a bit of a tormenting time when I saw that there was a long queue for depositing cash and that, I would have to wait for some more time before I could offload myself.

Her chirpiness and innocence won my heart, I would have given her the goldfish as a gift. But alas! the store-keeper has to make a living. Anyhow, Razieh retraces her path and finds the spot where her currency had dropped off. Its a pit covered by grills, infront of a store which is already closed for the vacations. Here begins her next set of struggles of having to retrieve the note from that pit. She is soon joined by her brother and they cannot return home empty handed. Razeih definitely wants her New Year gift and the brother being older feels the need to be by his sister’s side and help her out.

The story is quite simple, nothing showy flashy at all. But the manner in which it unfolds is very appreciable, keeping the sensitivity of children in mind. The screenplay is wonderful and filled with lots of sweet little moments like the conversation with the army man who is on his way to his native place on account of New Year leave, the tailor who argues with a customer about the size of the collar, an elderly lady who offers to help and finally the smallboy who sells balloons for a living. How all these people come together and do their bit in trying to help the sweet little kid is very well done.

When the army man tries talking to Razieh and she does not respond, he asks if she has been instructed not to talk to strangers. That’s such a basic parenting nature, all of us are taught not to do so. This was captured well in the movie, sticking to the minutest of details about children’s mannerism and behaviour pattern.

The baby-girl is really enchanting and her expressions are just fantastic. The director, Jafar Panahi, has extracted a fabulous performance from her. From the first scene that she steps out of the house to the last scene, she is amazing. A lot of credit should go to Abbas Kiarostami who is the screen-writer of the movie. When Razieh finally gets her goldfish, its more of a writer’s victory than the directors. Taking no credit away from Jafar who has brought out the best from Aida Mohammadkhani[Razieh] and all other characters, I think the beautiful and detailed writing from Kiarostami must have helped him a great deal. All in all, a fantastic team effort and a good movie to sit back and watch.

I, of course, did manage to deposit the money with a little help from the clerk sitting across the table. When I got back home with a broad smile, dad let me know that he was following me like a guardian angel, keeping a distance of 20 feet. He believed in the saying that if you want a child to grow-up, hand him some responsibility.

By the way, the last shot of the movie was quite exceptional. All the characters who had appeared earlier, crossed each other’s path in that last snapshot. It probably signified the wheel of life, the criss-crossing of paths could also be a symbol of the close-knit society that exists and how people come forward to help each other.

PS: I shudder to think what we would do with the movie if it were to be remade in bollywood. We would, for sure, have a bunch of jokers, a few so-called-stars making an appearance; then a dream item-number prompted by some movie poster stuck on the billboard, a few silly laughs by a drunk passer-by who attempts to pull the note out of the pit etc. The reason for this afterthought is the fact that I heard ‘Children Of Heaven’ is being remade.

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Posted by on July 1, 2009 in movie review, movies, world cinema


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