Iran may produce the most responsible and thoughtful children films of world cinema. The White Balloon, while not the best children’s film from Iran (Children of Heaven and Where is the Friend’s Home? are much better), is perhaps the best representation of what Iranian filmmakers are doing right when it comes to making films about children.
Razieh (Aida Mohammadkhani) has her heart set upon getting a proper goldfish for the New Year. Her mother (Fereshteh Sadre Orafaiy) holds that they should simply use one of the many goldfish in their pond. But Raziah insists, saying the fish in the market are much bigger and better looking. With the help of her brother, Ali (Mohsen Kafili), she acquires the money to get the fish. But getting the fish becomes its own quest when Razieh finds many impediments along the way.
Unlike the Americans, this film does not look down as adults as morons and grant children superhuman intelligence. Razieh is a young girl, susceptible to the same fears you’d expect of the average young girl. Snakes, strange faces and loud voices rattle Razieh. For the children films of Iran, the importance of the child’s world is treated with just as much respect, if not more than, as the adult world.
And the adults, while often put in a negative light, are often at fault not because of their stupidity, but of their cruel indifference to the problems of children. They have their own problems to deal with and assume their lives and problems are much more important than the lives of children. Here are people who could take but a moment to aid a child, but they’re so wrapped up in the loftiness of being more important and having important work to do.
On the other hand, these films do not worship the foolishness of children like the French. The children’s naivety and ambition, while admirable, often bring them more trouble and heartache. Razieh’s quest for a better fish is the catalyst for what only becomes a longer series of troubles. There is still whimsy and fun to be had, but the film is quick to remind us that it’s also an intensely serious proposition to be a child. Even the smallest of problems can be cataclysmic and world-shaking to a child.
While other Iranian films build much better films off these attributes, The White Balloon is still a compelling and strong example of what makes these films so fascinating. It’s hard to say how gripping these films would be to a child, especially for international children who have been treated as ADD laugh monsters. But as an adult, Iran is making some of the most thoughtful and honest representations of childhood, one does not seek to romanticize or simply amuse.
© 2013 James Blake Ewing