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Sample, Sweet 'Balloon'

Directed by Jafar Panihi at the Kendall Square Cinema

By Amir Zarrinpar

ALTHOUGH VERY POPULAR IN international circles, Iranian films have not had much success in the United States. The only movie that has come close to being accepted in the U.S. is "Bashu," the only Iranian movie to be nominated to the Best Foreign Film category of the Academy Awards. This is odd, since Iranian movies usually capture awards in major movie festivals around the world.

All this should change with "The White Balloon." Already acclaimed as one of the best international films of the decade, "The White Balloon" takes a simple plot and transforms it into an incredibly emotional and well-crafted piece of art. It has already won the Camera d'Or award and the International Critics' Prize in the Cannes film festival.

"The White Balloon" is the story of a seven-year-old child who, on the eve of the Persian New Year, sees a beautiful goldfish in a pet shop window. Fish are an elemental part of the Persian New Year celebration, which occurs on the first day of spring and lasts for thirteen days. The goldfish in the pet shop is expensive for the family's rather modest income. But with the help of her brother, the little girl, Razieh (Aida Mohammadkhani), convinces her mother to buy the fish for their New Year ceremony.

On the way to the shop, she is almost swindled out of her money by a snake charmer, but his partner returns the money to her. Razieh arrives at the shop but discovers that she has lost the money. With the help of an old woman, she finds her money, but it falls down a grate. She spends most of her time trying to find a way to retrieve her money and finally does, with the help of her brother and a balloon seller.

The film is brilliantly acted, with such simplicity that it is hard to imagine that he people on the screen are actors. In fact, in order to preserve the genuineness of the acting and to add real emotion and suspense, director Jafar Panahi would not allow the actors to read the full script before shooting. Adding to the film's documentary-like quality is the fact that it was filmed within a span of a few hours on location in Tehran on New Year's Eve.

The translations in the film's subtitles, as that of most foreign flicks, do not capture the beauty of the language or the meaning of some idioms, but they are still well-done. In fact, the movie is so visually pleasing and well-done that even without the subtitles it would be extremely entertaining.

What Panahi does best is to communicate the charming simplicity of daily life in Iran. Throughout the film, Razieh is aided by a series of strangers, all of whom want her to succeed in her quest; the film values the honesty and goondess of ordinary people. "The White Balloon" is not just another foreign film; it is a new kind of film altogether, one that values a simple plot, fresh, genuine actors, and an honest style.

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