The White Balloon (1995)

The White Balloon (1995)

A charming, deceptively simple masterpiece from one of Iran’s greatest directors

The Very Best



Fereshteh Sadr Orafaee
85 min


Only a filmmaker of Jafar Panahi’s caliber could make a little girl’s quest for a goldfish feel like an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

What it's about

A seven-year-old girl embarks on a race against time to put the perfect finishing touch on her family’s Persian New Year celebrations.

The take

There’s a universe of hard-hitting emotion hiding in Jafar Panahi’s deceptively simple debut feature, which follows a seven-year-old girl’s attempts to buy a goldfish before Nowruz, the Persian New Year, dawns. From start to finish, her shopping trip only takes 80-something minutes, and all of the action is confined to a couple of Tehran’s streets — but, because we experience The White Balloon in real-time through determined young Raziah’s (Aida Mohammadkhani) perspective, her simple quest is transformed into a perilous and profoundly emotional odyssey for audiences. Every emotion — from fear to wonder — is magnified through Raziah's eyes, so much so that an unfortunately timed gust of wind comes to feel like a punch in the gut, and the sight of a fluttering banknote a euphoric miracle. Co-written by master of the Iranian New Wave Abbas Kiarostami, The White Balloon wrings expansive humanism out of its tiny canvas.

What stands out

Too many things to mention (that final shot!), but top of mind is the central performance. Little Aida Mohammadkhani, then a non-professional actor, never falters under the camera’s gaze. Whether she’s crying tears of panic or beaming at the sight of her brother, we don’t doubt the conviction of her feelings for a second, which makes it impossible not to get emotionally implicated in her rollercoaster of an afternoon ourselves. Such a commanding performance at such a young age — and with no formal training to boot — is a marvel to behold.


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