Foreign Films- The White Balloon: An Iranian Film


By: Anjali Patel

Films from other countries can provide a glimpse of the social and political obstacles people from other parts of the world face. Foreign films can also help outsiders understand various aspects of daily life such as the relationships one maintains, the recreational activities one pursues, and the way one communicates. Watching movies that display another culture is an entertaining way to learn about some of the most intimate details of that culture. While books and research papers can offer knowledge on the culture’s music, art, family dynamics, and cuisine, they usually do not demonstrate the minor yet distinguishing characteristics that make normal activities unique. For example, people tend to be more reserved about their daily routine and what their weekend plans are in suburban New Jersey while individuals are extremely open with their neighbors in villages located in other continents. The way someone talks in another nation may sound rude or inconsiderate to one but to the inhabitants, it is simply the casual way of speaking. For the most part, these differences go unnoticed unless encountered by experience or seen in documentaries and movies.

I recently watched a foreign film called The White Balloon by filmmaker, Jafar Panahi. The film takes place in Iran and is about a young girl who wants to purchase a pet fish from the local shop. After enough nagging, her parents finally gave in and provided her with the money she needed to buy the fish. Excited to finally satisfy her desire, she ran off and of course did not go straight to the store like her parents preferred. Injected with curiosity, she went into a certain part of town that was not exactly safe for young children to be freely roaming around. She also lost the money that her parents had given her. In hopes of finding it, she meets an old wise woman who helped her find the money. Although the money was stuck in the gutter, she did not lose her hopes so quickly. Determined to obtain the currency her parents gave her, she and her brother talked to anyone and everyone who may have helped their situation. Along with the old woman, the girl meets many different people including a soldier who exchanges details about his personal life with her. One of the last individuals she and her brother meets is a young merchant selling balloons. With a long stick, he eventually helps them physically get a hold of their money again.

Throughout this film, I could not help but notice the young girl’s persistence and dedication. She refused to go home and let her parents know that she had lost the money. Instead, she dealt with adults who did not take her seriously and gave her trouble when all she wanted to do was buy a fish. She did not practice her tenacious behavior for any higher purpose. She went through many obstacles to simply buy a fish- a want that seems so insignificant when one transitions into the adult phase of his or her life. This movie reminds older people of the energy and drives young people to possess. The drive telling them they can recover lost money. The drive telling them they can buy that fish. The drive telling them that they can accomplish whatever problems they have the urge to solve. This underlying theme is universal and can be applied to people who come from anywhere around the globe.

While the film conveyed this ubiquitous concept, it also exposed me to certain traits of the culture in Iran during the production of the movie. For example, in the beginning of the movie, the dad sent his son to purchase shampoo since they ran out. From the start of the movie, this chore exhibits that in Iran and most likely in other parts of the world, it is fairly normal for young children to go to local shops and nearby markets alone. In suburban areas of the United States, one can rarely spot young children even going outside without their parents watching them. Additionally, the young boy selling balloons at the end of the movie looked like a teenager. While in some locations it is perfectly normal to see young vendors stroll down the street selling their merchandise, it is a foreign concept in suburban New Jersey. These components add to the understanding of what it is like to live in the capital of Iran.

I hope this article has encouraged you to watch this particular film and other foreign films that have as many layers to explore.

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