Baran, by Majid Majidi, was one of the best films released last year. Beautiful to look at, strongly allegorical and at times one swept up in mythic proportions it is a film that is smartly balanced between politics and romance.
The story is simple: it is about an Iranian young man Lateef (Hossein Abedini) who falls in love with an Afghan refugee but – due to shyness and cultural circumstances – cannot find the means to tell her.
Lateef works at a construction site that employs numerous illegal Afghani workers. One of the workers is badly hurt and send back home. The next day two of the workers' relatives show up to take his place. One is an old man the other a young effeminate man named. The young man – who's name is Baran (Zahra Bahrami) – eventually takes Lateef's job, which is to buy groceries and provide food for the workers. Lateef is extremely upset and vows revenge with this new guy until he finds out that he is a she dressed as a man.
Once Lateef finds this secret out he falls hopelessly in love and begins to plan ways to confront her. Then, one day, the two Afghanis disappear. Lateef goes in search of them and finds out why they quit. Lateef finds them, observes their financial hardships and begins to help them by secretly giving them his savings and earnings.
The remarkable thing about Baran - and its primary message - is what happens to people when they fall in love. Lateef goes from being resentful and hateful to being totally selfless. His actions, which appear rather stupid at first, actually end up having a compassionate basis. By the end Lateef realizes that what he has to lose is far less than what the Afghan's have already lost and even if he doesn't get Baran he knows he will have done something worthwhile.
The film also shows the difficulty of the Afghan refugees in Iran. They all live together in squalid environs, working together in a community and trying to make ends meet. And when they finally earn enough money they go back home - where there is little work.
This simple tale of finding an impossible love is very well shot, skillfully edited and paced. The only weakness may be the believability of the whole love angle. While it is certainly sincere there are a few scenes involving Lateef's selfless actions and naive shyness that are annoying. One gets the feeling he will never confront Baran and end up a penniless fool. But more importantly this is a film that touches the universality of human desires and needs. It combines the personal with the political in ways that speak to all of us.
The film presented 1.85:1 and looks very good. This is one of the most polished looking Iranian films ever shot. The image is sharp and the colors are many shades of earth tones. What color there has a saturated look. The film also has a natural lighting look too but it's never too dark.
The film is in Farsi with English subtitles and presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. It sounds okay.
There is a trailer and that is all. The menu has 15 chapters. It would have been good to have an interview or an analysis of some sort.
This is another in a long line of very fine Iranian films. It was directed by Majid Majidi who previously directed the highly successful Children of Heaven and Color of Paradise and like those this film has a universal story that has a built in fable-like quality. What's more the film gives the viewer a brief look at difficulties that many Afghan refugees face in Iran.