This extraordinary debut feature, about a 7-year-old’s first journey alone into the streets of Tehran, is a movie of audacious subtlety and simplicity, and a deserving Cannes prize-winner. It takes place in ‘real time’, the 84 minutes leading to New Year (March 21), as little Razieh (Aïda Mohammadkhani) goes off to purchase, with her mother’s last 500 toman, the ‘chubby’ gold-fish that has taken her fancy. Along the way, she encounters snake-charmers, irate shopkeepers, a country-born soldier, a young Afghan boy with a white balloon – a whole world hitherto ‘forbidden’. Scripted in collaboration with leading Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, this is a film of small incident, minute, telling observations, and enormous heart and intelligence. Tethering the movie to the child’s point of view (both literal and metaphorical), Panahi absorbs us so entirely into his heroine’s delicate, enquiring world, that the loss of her money and her separation from her brother create an atmosphere of suspense as gripping as that of any Hitchcock thriller. Moreover, suggestive intimations of the troubled adult world – the mother’s anxiety in the bazaar, the lonely ‘outsiders’ – combine to produce a feeling of almost metaphysical tension.
– Source : Time Out Film Guide 13
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