To make a film about and with a blind child is to court the fates of hand-wringing bathos and overscored pluck, and Majid Majidi, whose preciously titled The Color of Paradise focuses on a blind eight-year-old agog in the soundscapes of north Iran, is no rookie at hitting below the belt. (His last movie, The Children of Heaven, was a whorish spectacle of teary kids and unlikely triumphs.) But Paradise has a measure of realist grandeur that can be surprising. We’d be foolish to assume that Iranian filmmakers aren’t eyeing the American marketplace and trying their best to become Kiarostamian, and here Majidi does something of a grand-slam job balancing the two desires. The opening sequence watches Mohammad (Mohsen Ramezani) carefully as he finishes up his last day at his Tehrani school for the blind (Majidi knows to leave the stupefying effect of a roomful of whispering children frantically taking Braille dictation unpunctuated), and immediately it’s clear that Ramezani, with his back-flipping eyeballs, toddler’s run, and tentative hands, is an awesomely authentic presence no amount of filmmaking misjudgments can dilute.
But unlike his more famous, though doubtless less popular, contemporaries, Majidi is tempted by Spielbergian swellings, and Mohammad’s tribulations—taken by his fed-up father to his grandmother’s farm, where the boy both sucks up nature with every orifice and turns out to be an obstacle for the father’s remarriage—are soon awash with slo-mo epiphanies and tiring portents. An upside-down turtle even gets its own cutaway, and every bird noise triggers a power-dolly up to the boy’s listening puss. Like a Hollywood dolt, Majidi strives to overwhelm us with emphasis, but it’s the reality he was savvy to load his movie with that’s touching.
Sander Francken’s Papa’s Song is a culture-clash stealth bomb that, in the end, shoves culture aside in favor of the psychological war game born of warped siblinghood. We haven‘t seen many movies about the head-butt between the Dutch bourgeois and Netherlands Antilles immigrants, but Francken wastes little time on socioeconomics and dives into the snake pit of barely repressed menace and bitterness between two Curaçao sisters, one married childlessly to an honest, white Dutch judge, the other a pop-diva mother of two running from an abusive husband. The mysteries of their manic-depressive relationship are riveting as long as they‘re mysteries; by now, explaining away “family secrets“ is subject to diminishing returns, and the final toe-to-toe is outlandishly savage. But like its judge-hero, Papa’s Song spends so much time caught in these vivid women’s crossfire that the postcolonialist exoticism lurking under the surface ends up signifying everything married couples don’t know about each other.