Baran — A Lyrical Tale of Selfless Love
Majid Majidi was one of the important Iranian film-maker of the Iranian New Wave cinema movement, which came into existence after the revolution of 1979. Although Majidi’s movies are more populist and less critical of his government’s harsh policies (unlike the movie of contemporaries like Abbas Kiarostami, Jafar Panahi, Mohsen Makhmalbaf), he is marveled for telling a very simple story with universal human values and dazzling vision. Compassion runs deep into his works (“Children of Heaven”, “The Color of Paradise”, “The Willow Tree”, “Song of Sparrows”), enriching us with a meditative movie experience.
Majidi’s movies often deal with familial ties, and characters seeking hope and peace. Running is one of his vital visual tropes. The characters either run for their life or try to run away from old life. All his films also have a genuine, poetic ending, where the protagonist reaches a transcendent state. Frequent close-ups, natural light, slow motion tracking shots are some of his seamless visual style. Majidi’s 2001 film “Baran” possesses all these themes and styles, but at the same time it’s also a deviation from his previous works. With “Baran”, Majidi embarked to depict young love and showcased some stark images of an Iranian industrial city that doesn’t come into the crowd-pleasing territory.
The movie is set among the vast Afghan refugee community of Northern Iran. The refugees poured into Iran after Soviet’s Afghan invasion in 1979, and the ensued, brutal Taliban regime. The illegal afghan immigrants led marginal lives, working odd jobs, mostly in the construction sites. The story’s protagonist is a young Iranian boy named Lateef (Hossein Abedini). He is the least necessary guy of the construction crew because his work is to supply teas and clean dishes. He is also a ho-headed guy whose pugnacious attitude is hated by the site manager, Memar (Mohammad Reza Naji). The manager has employed hundreds of illegal Afghan workers, who scamper away like rats, whenever the government inspectors arrive at the site.
Lateef’s salary and ID card is kept safe by Memar. He hoards little pocket money from Memar and saves it in a tin box. One day, an Afghan worker Soltan falls from the building and injures his leg. The next day Soltan’s adolescent boy named Rahmat (Zahra Bahrami) is sent to fill in. Rahmat is weak and often drops the concrete bags. In a move that irks Lateef, Memar puts Rahmat in charge of kitchen duty and commands Lateef to do the heavy-lifting. He responds by smashing the kitchen. Lateef does everything to sabotage the new boy’s spirit, until one day he discovers that the smooth-faced Rehmat is actually a girl in disguise. The discovery brings a change to Lateef’s hostile nature.
Director Majid Majidi once again tells a simple story with fewer dialogues and by elegantly observing the behaviors of his characters. He totally keeps away from sentimentalizing Lateef’s selfless love and trusts his undaunted images to convey those pure emotions. The sudden attitude change of Lateef may seem implausible, but it should be viewed as a fable that proves stays close to the statement; “love can conquer all enmities”. Majidi shows his faith in the power of small selfless acts that can, in the long run may serve as a reprieve from the more dangerous events.
“Baran” is one of the astonishingly beautiful movies that make us wonder about Majidi’s visual instincts. The hair-combing scene where Lateef watches Rehmat through a mirror is exceedingly poetic. The final images are so moving and conveys the love with a power beyond words (the tight close-up shot of the beautiful of Zahra Bahrami articulates all the emotions). There’s also shot of a foot imprint filled with rain water, which may be symbolizing the ever-lasting impression the girl has made on Lateef’s life. Majidi also conveys the harsh lives endured by the Afghans. He shows us Afghan girls doing heavy labor; the slums that obstructs the refugees’ dream of freedom; and the pain of exile and poverty. Except for Majidi’s regular actor Mr. Naji (plays the paternal boss), the cast is full of non-professional actors (the girl who played Rahmat grew up in a refugee camp).
“Baran” (96 minutes) tells a simple, timeless tale with the help of unforgettable, evocative images. It is a visual poem that must be viewed with a contemplative mind-set.