Sunday, June 29, 2008

THE WILLOW TREE (Majid Majidi, 2005, Iran) Writer/Director Majid Majidi has created an elegant and profound film whose beautiful imagery belies its emotionally debilitating conflict. The acting is incredible and realistic; for example, Youssef’s shambling gate subtly changes as he adjusts to this new world. Sparklers blinded Youssef when he was 8 years old and has spent the last 40 years in darkness. He has adapted to his new reality and enjoys a comfortable life as a University professor with a loving wife and child. Then he is diagnosed with a brain tumor and the doctors not only save his life but also give him back his sight. The film explores Youssef’s failure to rehabilitate to the world of visual language, to lose the insight and inner voice that has guided him all of his adult life. When he returns home after his hospitalization, Youssef doesn’t recognize his own family in the crowd and we begin to feel his isolation and spiritual angst. Emotionally crippled, he develops a secret and adolescent crush on a beautiful student who asks him to critique her thesis. Youssef loves his wife but doesn’t need her maternal instincts now; like a young man, his carnal desires are awakened. When his family is driven away by his selfish acts he begins a downward spiral that leads to his dark night of the soul. He prays to god because the burden is too big for him…and the punishment unjust. Youssef’s salvation doesn’t lay with an imaginary god, it can only be found within, in taking responsibility for his actions and redefining himself. The message of the film seems to be that we are never given tasks too great for us and our suffering is meant to enlighten us and bring us closer to god. The metaphor of the ant supports this idea. But it’s not true: if Youssef’s god exists then it is sadistic…or deaf. I wonder what the future has in store for Youssef? His fate is in his own hands. (B)