Review: ‘The Weeping Willow’

A well-adjusted professor who has been blind for 37 years regains his sight, with disastrous consequences, in "The Weeping Willow," Majid Majidi's first film since "Baran" (2000). Though the idea is interesting, this revisiting of the blindness theme in "The Color of God" is basically a beautifully lensed disappointment. The drama has a forced feel, and religious ideas play a particularly unconvincing role in the denouement. The director's sudden turn from tales of underprivileged kids to a middle-class Iranian setting is also likely to present a puzzle for the offshore distribs who successfully marketed his earlier films.

A well-adjusted professor who has been blind for 37 years regains his sight, with disastrous consequences, in “The Weeping Willow,” Majid Majidi’s first film since “Baran” (2000). Though the idea is interesting, this revisiting of the blindness theme in “The Color of God” is basically a beautifully lensed disappointment. The drama has a forced feel, and religious ideas play a particularly unconvincing role in the denouement. The director’s sudden turn from tales of underprivileged kids to a middle-class Iranian setting is also likely to present a puzzle for the offshore distribs who successfully marketed his earlier films.

Yet there are still many masterful passages in this odd work, especially in the film’s first half. Yusef (Parviz Parstouie), though blind, is a happy family man with a loving wife, a cute daughter, a big house, a university career. When he goes to Paris to have surgery on a tumor under his eye, doctors discover his eyes are sensitive to light. In a beautiful tree-lined park outside the hospital, he prays to God for a chance to start a new life. He undergoes cornea transplants and regains his sight. Scenes are reverently shot, gently suggesting the great miracle God has wrought on the man.

This delicate balance is largely lost in the second half. The first thing Yusef sees when he lands in Teheran, among the crowd of well-wishers who have turned out at the airport to cheer him, is an attractive young woman. She obsesses his thoughts as he painfully learns what it is to see: to recognize relatives and friends, to learn to read. With sight, his morals go into steep decline. In one eerie, well-filmed scene, he watches a pickpocket lift a wallet on the subway, but stays mum. He reads the mystical Persian poets — Hafez, Shams, Rumi — on what they have to say about love. His wife moves out.

Parstouie, a subtle actor with a sensitive face, is more than up to playing the human irony in these unexpected developments. His urge to take advantage of his new, sighted life seems only natural. Then the script starts careening toward hysteria, and his character changes radically from quiet and reserved to angry and irrational. In a fit of fury, he burns his wedding pictures and Braille books, and hurls his religious texts into the garden pond. God is clearly not pleased, and metes out a terrible punishment that brings the drama to a bitter conclusion.

Pic is most memorable in its details, like an ant carrying a cornflake across a windowsill, which beautifully illustrates the everyday wonder of sight. Mahmood Kalari’s outstanding cinematography and Ahmad Pejman’s sober musical score make a big contribution to film’s pleasing atmosphere.

The Weeping Willow

Iran

Production

An Art Bureau of the Islamic Propagation Organization production. Produced, directed, written by Majid Majidi.

Crew

Camera (color), Mahmood Kalari; editor, Hassan Hassandoost; music, Ahmad Pejman; production, costume designers, Behzad Kazazi, Mohsen Mousavi; sound, Yadollah Najafi. Reviewed at Fajr Film Festival (competing), Feb. 5, 2005. Running time: 97 MIN.

With

Parviz Parstouie, Roya Teymourian, Soghra Obeisi, Melika Eslafi, Leyla Otadi, Mahmoud Behraznia.
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