The White Balloon

84 minutes

The most popular non-American movie shown at the 1995 Cannes film festival, this fresh and unpredictable comic “thriller” from Iran is a first feature by Jafar Panahi, a former assistant to the great Abbas Kiarostami (Through the Olive Trees), who's credited, with Panahi and Parviz Shahbazi, with the screenplay. The film describes in real time the adventures of a seven-year-old girl and her older brother in the streets of Tehran during the 85 minutes that elapse just before the celebration of the Iranian New Year. After convincing her mother she needs another goldfish for the celebration, the girl sets off to buy one, but twice en route to the store loses the banknote she's been given; most of the remainder of the film is devoted to her efforts to get the money back. If the plot sounds slender, the movie is both gripping and charming, with well-sketched characters and expert storytelling—and Panahi's efforts to redefine our sense of time along the way are remarkable. A masterpiece, one that grows in impact and subtlety over repeated viewings.

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