WILLOW TREE, THE (Beed-e majnoon)
(director/writer: Majid Majidi; screenwriters: Fouad Nahas/Nasser Hashemzadeh; cinematographers: Mahmoud Kalari/Bahram Badakshani/Mohammad Davudi; editor: Hassan Hassandoost; music: Ahmad Pezhman; cast: Parvis Parastui (Youssef), Roya Taymourian (Roya), Afarin Obeisi (the Mother), Mohammad Amir Naji (Morteza), Melika Eslafi (Maryam), Leila Otadi (Pari), Mahmoud Behraznia (Mahmood); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Majid Majidi; New Yorker Films; 2005-Iran-in Farsi with English subtitles)
“Teeters on the edge of overwrought melodrama but is saved by the convincing performance of Parvis Parastui.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Iranian writer-director Majid Majidi’s (“Children of Heaven”/”The Color of Paradise”) emotionally moving, visually stunning and richly formulaic symbolic (a willow tree, ants, walnuts, snow and sudden wind gusts take on heavy handed metaphorical meanings) psychological drama teeters on the edge of overwrought melodrama but is saved by the convincing performance of Parvis Parastui, playing a blind college professor who learns the hard way “to be careful what you wish for, as you may get it.” The cautionary tale is also considerably helped by the director’s sensibilities of capturing with great conviction how it feels to see again (taking in the beautiful as well as the ugly) and training his camera on so many awe inspiring ethereal images.
The devout 45-year-old Youssef (Parvis Parastui) has been blind for the last 38 years, ever since the seven year old experienced a fireworks accident. He has a devoted amanuensis wife Roya (Roya Taymourian), who types his Rumi papers, a sweet daughter Maryam (Melika Eslafi), a comfortable home in the suburbs and a successful professorship teaching literature at Tehran University. But he stills prays for a miracle to restore his sight, feeling he’s missing something essential to life and is secretly angered with God for putting him in such a dependent position in life. The miracle comes in a Paris clinic, as he gets a successful risky cornea transplant and can see again. Returning home to cheers from friends and family at the airport, the professor is overjoyed but soon becomes depressed thinking how life passed him by. In the subway he watches a young pickpocket operate and is so paralyzed with indecision he fails to do anything to stop the theft. Youssef soon lets his ego get the better of him, as he feels he’s owed something for all the years lost to the handicap. After enjoying the beautiful sights of nature, joyfully frolicking in the snowy hills with his playful daughter and visiting his Uncle Mahmood’s jewelry factory and witnessing a shower of molten gold sparks, he becomes confused with all the bad things he sees. He also gets tempted by attractive women he lusts after to no avail and becomes obsessed with his pretty sister-in-law, a thesis writing student named Pari (Leila Otadi). Upon seeing that his previously invisible wife is plain looking, he now resents her and gets it into his head that her devotion to him was motivated by pity and insults her to the point she leaves him. Youssef has trouble adjusting to a world he before only imagined, and a happy ending is removed when his blindness suddenly recurs after a few months. But he’s now given a second chance to live with that veil of darkness and consults with his God on how he can ask his wife to forgive him for his cruelty and selfishness.
The conservative film serves as a warning against blind religious devotion or trying to bargain with God or being nice only because you’re dependent on others or being a myopic dreamer. Though it’s flawed with too much sappy symbolism, it recovers enough to be viewed as a haunting visionary tale about a man who just had to be cruel for a few moments to know how it felt before receiving a spiritual jolt that returns him again to realize the common bonds of humanity and to restore his religious faith.
REVIEWED ON 5/12/2008 GRADE: B