By Ann Hornaday
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, May 3, 2002
"Baran," the latest film by Iranian writer-director Majid Majidi, further solidifies his growing reputation as one of the cinema's most gifted humanist filmmakers.
Set in the vast community of Afghan refugees in northern Iran, the movie tells the story of Lateef (Hossein Abedini), a teenage boy working as a cook and gofer on a construction site. He and the site manager, Memar (Mohammad Reza Naji), are the only Iranians on the site, which employs hundreds of illegal Afghan workers; when one of those workers falls and injures his foot, he sends his adolescent son Rahmat to fill in.
Rahmat is small and weak, constantly dropping the heavy loads of concrete and slurry, which never seem to end up anywhere. Eventually, Memar switches the boys, putting Rahmat on kitchen duty and forcing the infuriated Lateef to take up the heavy lifting. Lateef does everything in his power to sabotage his rival until the day he makes a discovery about Rahmat that will inspire him to become increasingly fascinated by the immigrant's life and history.
As he did in such films as "The Color of Paradise" and "Children of Heaven," Majidi does not tell his story through plot and dialogue as much as by simply observing the behavior of his characters, who are played almost entirely by nonprofessional actors (another Majidi signature). Indeed, much of "Baran" proceeds like a wordless play, as Lateef watches Rahmat engage in backbreaking work, first at the construction site and later at an Afghan refugee camp. Again, Majidi has discovered a wonderful cast of players to bring this gentle allegory to life, especially Naji as the irascible but generous Memar, who displays nearly perfect comic timing.
Although Majidi made "Baran" before the events of last autumn, the movie is uncannily well-timed: As Lateef follows Rahmat deeper into the harsh existence of Iran's refugees, he seems to stand for the entire Western world, which for decades turned a blind eye to the depredations suffered by the Afghan people. "Baran" ends with a lyrical yet jarring gesture, one that in hindsight lends sad ambiguity to the director's stated desire to prove that "love can conquer all borders." That's not entirely demonstrated by this quietly stirring film, but Majidi's faith in the cumulative power of small, brave acts is a welcome respite from far more discouraging events on the world stage.