The White Balloon (Badkonake sefid)

The White Balloon

We can’t celebrate the New Year without the goldfish!

I mentioned in my review for A Separation that I hadn’t thought much of Iranian cinema before then. But that was a modern film, with modern sensibilities; what of the Iranian cinema of the past few years shows that they are viable as a great film producing country? Abbas Kiarostami is a name that immediately springs to mind, but what of anyone else? Well, another name that I can now write down is Jafar Panahi, who happened to be a previous assistant to Kiarostami, and who makes his feature debut with this charmingly quaint family film, The White Balloon.

The film details a young Iranian girl who only wants a goldfish to celebrate the Iranian New Year, and the troubles she goes through trying to hold onto the money she has to buy it. A simple premise, and a succinct one; perfect for a director to cut his teeth with when he sets out on his own or the first time. The film opens with a radio broadcast stating that there is but an hour and a half before the Iranian New Year. Coincidentally (or rather, not), the film itself is just shy of an hour and a half, so the film is presented roughly in real-time. The film takes place mostly in the winding corridors that make up the markets and homes of the Arab people of the times, and Panahi is smart enough to capitalize on the limitations of his locations by using them to frame the action itself, giving the film a framework all its own. The little girl that serves as the main character of the film can be a bit of a whiner at times, and I rolled my eyes at her a few times, but it’s just too hard to hate on a little kid in a film, especially when they really haven’t done anything wrong; she’s just being a kid, and she spends most of her time either crying or smiling, so again, it’s rather hard to look down on her.

The film is firmly grounded in reality; nothing extravagant happens, and there are no Hollywood touches or broad strokes with this one. There isn’t even a score, so there’s virtually nothing to distract you from the goings on, not that there should be. It’s the single-mindedness that makes this work so well; films are often described or given the moniker of “an escape from reality”, implying that there should always be a level of unrealisticness to make a film entertaining as escapism. Not so with The White Balloon, and other neorealist fare like it; it opts instead for painting a portrait of a real life situation, exactly as it would be, showing that we don’t need flash or even fiction to find enjoyment or empathy with a film. I don’t know if this is really must-see material, but I think I’m going to have a much better time with modern neorealism like this, rather than classic neorealism like The Bicycle Thief. I’ll have to keep my eye out for others like this one.

Arbitrary Rating: 7/10

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