Friday Film Review: Baran
Genre: coming of age drama
Baran is another foreign film that Netflix kept pushing at me relentlessly until I finally put it in my queue. Honestly, I thought at times they were going to send me an email saying, “Listen, we know you’ll like it so we’ve gone ahead and put it in the number 1 spot in your queue. Thank us after you’ve enjoyed it.” I guess I need to send them a thank you note now.
Lateef (Hossein Abedini) has a cushy job at a construction site in Iran where, like Penelope’s weaving, the building never seems to progress beyond a certain point before it has to be pulled down and redone. Job security I guess. Anyway, he’s 17 years old and into fighting at the drop of a hat to prove his cojones. He serves tea to the other workers and makes lunch for them all for which he pulls down a nice salary. The foreman of the site Memar (Mohammad Amir Naji) makes it a point to employ some of the illegal Afghanis in the country who’ve fled from the Russian occupation and the Taliban because it’s the right thing to do to help people. It’s easy to see that in spite of his blustering, he’s got a big heart and it’s in the right place.
One day one of those illegal workers Najaf (Gholam Ali Bakhshi) is badly injured. A few days later one of the Afghans shows up with Najaf’s young son Rahmat (Zahra Bahrami), who looks a lot like Cartman, to take Najaf’s place and earn money to support the family. It’s obvious that Rahmat isn’t up to the physical labor and soon Memar gives him Lateef’s easy job and moves Lateef to the harder work. Pissed off by this, Lateef plays pranks on Rahmat and torments him until the day when Lateef discovers that Rahmat is actually a young woman. Then every thing changes and Lateef begins to try and help and defend her. But when the authorities crack down on the illegal workers and Rahmat looses her job, how far will Lateef go to help her?
I’ll go ahead and give a semi-spoiler and say that the movie ends without the typical Hollywood HEA. But such an ending wouldn’t have made sense given the nationality of the film and the background of the characters. Lateef is a young man, barely 17, and would not be thinking of getting married yet until he is older, more settled and ready to support a family. Rahmat, whose real name is Baran (which means rain- watch for this in the film), is also young and an illegal in this country. She could marry an Iranian but it’s more likely that her family would want her to marry a fellow Afghan. We’ll never know for sure since the film ends with Baran and her family heading back to Afghanistan to help her recently widowed aunt.
Still interested in seeing it? I hope so because director Majid Majidi presents another lovely film about the working class in Iran. It’s not quite as sugary sweet as “Children of Heaven” but it’s just as beautifully filmed and filled with well rounded characters and every day life there. The construction site work is appalling (OSHA would have a fit) but it’s shown later that this work is far and away better than most any other that the Afghans could hope to get. And as hard as the construction work is, we also see the workers relaxing during lunch and after the days work is done. The jobs Baran has to do after losing her place with Memar are horrible – hauling rocks from a freezing river is one – and the plight of those who have to take whatever work they can find is vividly shown.
The other issue Majidi addresses is Lateef’s maturation. When the film starts, he’s a hothead who teases the other workers and is ready to fight over anything. He starts to change after discovering Baran’s secret and completes the process by the lengths to which he goes to help her and her family, all without the expressed hope of anything in return beyond offering that assistance. Most of the interactions between Lateef and Baran are done in silence, in fact Baran doesn’t have a word of dialogue in the whole film, but Abedini and Bahrami are such good actors that their faces express everything. There’s a scene at the end where he helps her pick up some spilled fruit which is more moving than a lot of the overdone, emotional climaxes I’ve seen in Western films. The love may be platonic and perhaps will never be expressed but it’s there and palpable.
Yes, the film is slow by Western standards as Majidi takes his time letting us see the characters, the country and setting up the plot. The main characters don’t even touch, much less kiss or get physical. The love is altruistic but then a Western style love story isn’t the point of the film. I’m sure there are a lot of references to Persian culture that I missed and I know there are times when I wished for a clearer understanding of what was going on and about the subtexts of the film. But when it was over, I sat and began to contemplate what I’d just seen and think about how to describe the beauty of it. And when a film won’t leave my mind even after a week, I know it’s a good one.