Baran (2001)


(director/writer: Majid Majidi; screenwriter: consultant Fouad Nahas; cinematographer: Mohammad Davudi; editor: Hassan Hassandoost; music: Ahmad Pezhman; cast: Hossein Abedini (Latif), Zahra Bahrami (Rahmat), Mohammad Reza Naji (Memar), Hossein Rahimi (Soltan), Gholam Ali Bakhsi (Najaf); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Majid Majidi/Fouad Nahas; Miramax Films; 2001-Iran)

“This rather superficial arthouse middle-brow film knows how to please a crowd, and that’s about all it does well.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A feel-good romantic fable from Iranian director-writer Majid Majidi (“The Children of Heaven“/”The Color of Paradise“) that exploits the Afghan immigrants plight in exile from the Taliban in as disingenuous a way as do the construction bosses in the film. At least “Baran,” whose subject-matter is about a girl named Baran (Rain) who goes against Muslim tradition out of desperation and disguises herself as a boy named Rahmat, has more maturity and is less inclined to ignore some of the harsh political realities in modern-day Iran than Majidi’s previous features did. “Baran” is a very simple tale with sparse dialogue that uses the gimmicky disguise ploy as its main plot point to help a troublesome young worker reform his wayward ways.

Lateef (Hossein Abedini) is a lazy young Iranian laborer on a Tehran building site that employs a number of illegal Afghanis, as the filmmaker points out over a million Afghan refugees have poured into Iran seeking wages and escape from the horrible conditions of their ruined country. The job’s manual labor includes hauling 50-pound bags of cement up a series of ramps to build a wall. Most of the hard labor jobs are being done by underpaid refugees from Afghanistan. Lateef has one of the softest job at the site — he’s the tea boy, bringing hot cups to the workers and running errands in town for the fair-minded but underpaying blustery site boss Memar (Mohammad Reza Naji). The boss hides the illegal workers whenever the building inspectors come on the premises, as he’s shown to go along with the exploitation of the illegals.

In the opening scene an Afghan worker, Najaf (Bakhsi), falls from the second floor and breaks a leg. He desperately needs money since he’s raising a family of five alone since his wife died, and therefore his friend Soltan (Hossein Rahimi) brings his oldest son Rahmat (Zahra Bahrami) to replace his injured father carrying the bags of cement. When Rahmat proves to be too weak to carry the bags and drops one on the head of some Iranian worker, the sympathetic but hotheaded Memar has Lateef switch jobs with Rahmat. Lateef is deeply upset about this and tries to get back at Rahmat, but all the other workers are pleased with the change as the tea is now much better.

Lateef by snooping around eventually discovers Rahmat’s deception, but begins to change inside and decides to keep the cross-dressing secret to himself and thereby develops the character he never had before–he falls in love with her and suddenly matures into manhood. The problem I had with this change, was that it was not totally convincing. Also, there didn’t seem to be any conviction shown in depicting the Afghani suffering — it all seemed more like an arty contrivance for the film than it did about their tough situation. This rather superficial arthouse middle-brow film knows how to please a crowd, and that’s about all it does well.