Tea and Sympathy - "Baran" Review
By Jeffrey M. Anderson Combustible Celluloid
If you've only seen one Iranian film, odds are that it was directed by Majid Majidi. While not exactly mainstream, his films come with a pre-packaged sweetness that greater Iranian directors like Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf eschew in favor of shining brilliance. And the distributor Miramax can sniff out this sweetness like a dog can smell treats.
Majidi directed the first Oscar-nominated Iranian film, "Children of Heaven," which is a very good film about a boy racing to win a pair of shoes. His follow-up, the awkward "The Color of Paradise," is probably the worst of the 20 or so Iranian films I've seen to date. It concerns a blind boy and his overbearing father.
Fortunately the new "Baran" flows with the same wonderful poetic realism that seems to mark many good Iranian films. I enjoyed it and I do recommend it, but it's not nearly as interesting or refreshing as recent films like "The Circle," "The Wind Will Carry" Us or "A Moment of Innocence."
It's also worth nothing that, like Makhmalbaf's recent "Kandahar," "Baran" deals with Afghan refugees in Iran. But while Makhmalbaf looked at his subjects directly and painfully, in this case the film doesn't use them as anything more interesting than props.
As the film begins, we meet Latif (Hossein Abedini), a young worker on a construction site whose job is to serve tea and fetch cigarettes and groceries. A worker on the site is injured, and in order to make ends meet, the man's son comes to take over the job. The only problem is that the son is actually a daughter, named Baran (Zahra Bahrami), in disguise.
Baran is unable to lift and carry the heavy sacks of concrete up the slanted walkways of the building. After spilling several pounds of it, she's demoted to Latif's job, while Latif takes on the heavy lifting job.
Latif is none too pleased about this arrangement. He begins tormenting the newcomer, at least until he discovers her true identity and begins awkwardly wooing her. Before long, he becomes obsessed with saving her from her miserable living conditions and spiriting her away from it all.
I suppose the reason Majidi's hokey story works so well is that it's grounded in the everyday work routine, as well as in aching poverty. Whenever the inspector comes by the site, the Afghan workers have to run and hide. Conditions here are not optimal.
As a result, Latif's wild, flailing emotions come from somewhere in reality and not in a Hollywood void. And though the ending, with Latif searching high and low for Baran, does not satisfy as well as the long days at the work site, you still feel that Majidi has taken the right path to tame his huge story.
Originally Published July 19, 2002
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