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Iranian director Jafar Panahi's last collaboration with maverick filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami has yielded one minor masterpiece THE WHITE BALLOON (1995), a touching tale about a little girl and a goldfish that spoke volumes about contemporary Iranian society and this unusual, sort-of crime thriller, in which an act of violence is traced back to fundamental inequalities in post-Revolution Iran. Otherwise subdued, the film opens with a shocking moment of violence: An agitated, heavyset man paces wildly in a doorway while a crowd gathers on the street outside. Suddenly, the man puts a gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. The series of events that brought him to this awful pass is the film's subject: Kind-hearted pizza-deliveryman Hussein (Hussein Emadeddin) is plagued by sluggishness and an unattractively swollen face, the result of high doses of cortisone he must take for an unspecified illness. As soon as he gets a clean bill of health from his doctor, Hussein plans to marry the sister (Azita Rayeji) of his best friend, Ali (Kamyar Sheissi), who also delivers pizzas to some of Tehran's wealthiest neighborhoods. Through the half-opened doors of their customers, Hussein and Ali glimpse lavish apartments and decadent lifestyles that bear little resemblance to their own lives in poorer parts of the city. One afternoon, Ali and Hussein visit a posh jewelry store in one of Tehran's most exclusive neighborhoods to inquire about repairs to a ring Ali found in a discarded purse. The proprietor won't even let them in the door, advising them to try one of the goldsmiths down at the bazaar. Ali is unfazed, but Hussein takes the slight to heart and later, when Ali, his sister and Hussein return to the same jeweler to buy a necklace, the jeweler's condescension ignites a long-simmering rage in this gentle giant. The film is so natural in its construction and effortless in its execution that it's easy to overlook its considerable artistry: the casual elegance of Hassain Jafarian's cinematography, the poignant, deeply humanistic language of Kiarostami's screenplay. Though it unfolds like a thriller, it's ultimately a tragedy along the lines of TAXI DRIVER (1976) or WHY DOES HERR R. RUN AMOK? (1970), in which an ordinary man is pushed to the breaking point by an existence he can no longer tolerate.
(In Farsi, with English subtitles.)