Following the success of The White Balloon, Iranian director Jafar Panahi made The Mirror, which then was followed by the daring The Circle. Here is a filmmaker who likes to take chances, and the payoff is worth it. The theme of this absorbing and innovative drama is the disarming ways in which children are able to express their own distinct personalities without modesty or grandiosity. Adults wear masks all the time and rarely take them off. No so, children. No wonder Jesus saluted them for their honesty.

Mina (Mina Mohammad Khani, the lead in The White Balloon) is a second grader at a school in Teheran. When her mother doesn't show up to take her home, the little girl, who has her arm in a plaster cast, decides to try to go it alone. A merchant who helps her out is hurt in an accident on his motorbike shortly after Mina gets off the vehicle.

On a bus she is sure will take her home, the observant girl takes in the scene around her: an old woman who chastises her for not giving up her seat to a woman with a child; a young man and woman making a connection with their eyes; some musicians plying the passengers for a donation after playing a song.

Much to her dismay, Mina discovers that she's taken the right bus only going in the wrong direction. A friendly driver helps get her settled. Midway in this long trip home, Mina surprises us all with an act of bravado that signals her independent spirit and the honesty that makes kids so unnerving.

The Mirror with its realistic street scenes vividly conveys the hugger-mugger of Teheran's urban milieu. Although there are several strangers who help Mina out, to most of these people she is invisible, a tiny tyke trying to make it home on her own. The little girl playing Mina is a pint-sized vessel of feistiness who tells people what she thinks and speaks forcefully when she needs to.