Youssef's arrival home from the airport is movingly rendered. He is greeted by a mass of people, cheering and waving, all of them visually complete strangers to him. He desperately searches the faces for any glimmer of recognition, finally settling on a woman who must be his mother. Hers is the only face filled with calm, caring warmth. He mouths “mother” and she nods. She then helps him lay eyes on his wife and daughter for the first time in his life. I don’t cry during movies often, I did here.
Along with the good changes Youssef also faces a newfound emotional dilemma. He finds himself infatuated with his pretty young niece. Now that his eyes have expanded the size of his world, they too have expanded the range of his temptations. Peering cautiously through leaves, rose in hand, he anticipates a meeting with his new infatuation only to be devastated as she happily hops into a car with a young man. The camera then tilts down to reveal that his wife has also observed his crush, and his crushing disappointment.
It is the saddest moment in Majidi’s work to date when Youssef’s mother observes her son’s desire for infidelity. And later, as he throws a childish tantrum, she quietly walks away, leaving him alone. Their eyes meet across a courtyard — although the expanse feels measured more in years than feet — for a final brief moment, a moment where both register the enormity of her disappointment. Then she enters her house and closes the door.
I’ve been adding and re-adding all of this up for days and haven’t quite decided how I feel about the moral of the tale. Youssef’s blindness seems a metaphor for the chasteness of Iranian culture, of how sin and temptation are avoided by hiding women from sight. But, is the film justifying this by saying the moment a woman becomes visible to a man he can only sin? Or is the film demonstrating the futility of a Hijab to conceal desire?
I guess another viewing is in store and, given Majidi talents, I look forward to it with pleasure.