The White Balloon
With Aida Mohammadkhani, Mohsen Kafili, Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy.
Iran, 1995, 35mm, color, 85 min.
Persian with English subtitles.
With characteristic affection for his subjects, Panahi uses his camera in the film’s opening shots to examine the inhabitants of a Tehran marketplace. The camera settles on a woman, whose seven-year-old daughter Razieh soon demands money to buy a new goldfish, in celebration of the new year. The film then takes Razieh as its subject as she departs for the store, loses the money and her direction, and wanders the city streets. This simple story entails a fascinating exploration of human nature: is Razieh’s dogged pursuit of her desired purchase heroic or childish? Is she driven by an indomitable spirit or simple stubbornness? The fable-like aspects of the story are tempered by an underlying critique of Razieh’s greed and, by extension, of the selfishness of consumerism in general. Taking place more or less in real time, the story bears the undeniable influence of Kiarostami, who receives a screenwriting credit. Panahi’s first film debuts a filmmaker worthy of his mentor and reveals why the director has become one of the most admired figures in world cinema today. – David Pendleton