Love Changes Everything
The universal theme of becoming a better person through love has never been filmed more irresistibly than in Baran. This beautifully photographed Iranian movie chronicles an unlikely hero’s efforts to help save the girl he secretly worships. While struggling to overcome political and cultural obstacles blocking fulfillment of his romantic obsession, a teenage construction worker emerges as one of the most unselfish characters I’ve ever seen on film.
Who knew that Lateef (Hossein Abedini), a mischievous 17-year old, could be capable of such deep feelings? Certainly not his boss Memar (Mohammed Reza Naji), who holds onto most of Lateef’s wages "for the boy’s own good." Nor the Afghani workers resented so strongly by Lateef. When one of them, Najaf, hurts himself in a fall from the construction site, his son Rahmat (Zahra Bahrami) appears on the following day to take his place. Because Rahmat, tiny and a bit frail, can’t handle the heavy lifting, Memar assigns him Lateef’s lighter job as the "tea boy" – someone who does the shopping, cooks a little, and brings drinks to the men. Which means Lateef must now do regular construction tasks, causing him to be resentful about giving up his easier duties to an Afghani. Consequently, he goes out of his way to harass Rahmat as much as possible.
The change in Lateef’s behavior begins when he peeks behind a curtain and sees Rahmat combing his long black hair, then pinning it beneath a cap. Lateef discovers Rahmat is really a young woman – and a beautiful one at that. Instead of resenting Rahmat, he now assumes the role of her protector.
Although she never speaks to Lateef, Rahmat (whose real name is Baran) can’t help noticing the change in him. To show her appreciation, she leaves a cup of tea and two sugar cubes at the place where he takes his daily work break. Complications arise when Rahmat/Baran must leave the construction site because she’s an Afghani refugee and not legally allowed to work there. After Baran leaves, Lateef’s desperate search for her takes on a humorous tone in a few scenes, but everything about it seemed quite inspiring to me. Making enormous personal sacrifices, Lateef learns about tolerance as well as love.
Just as he did in The Color of Paradise, filmmaker Majid Majidi paints dazzling images here, some in the most unexpected places. By mixing a gritty realism inside the work site – such as showing people carrying 50-pound sacks of cement up a series of ramps – with the beauty of simple acts like walking in the snow or feeding pigeons on a rooftop, Majidi again demonstrates his poetic cinematic eye. Exquisite details contribute to a feeling of watching a painting come to life. The sad reflection of a gray hat placed on the edge of a little pond hints at tears to come. Raindrops wash away a footprint in the mud, as if to erase the memory of someone who once walked there. And, when a slipper is returned to its small owner, her big brown eyes project more meaning than a thousand words.
Besides being impressed with Baran’s artistry, I gained insight into the plight of refugees everywhere by watching this humanistic film. Illegal immigrants must hide from authorities, work for lower wages than citizens of the countries where they seek shelter, and worrry about an uncertain future. Baran gives faces and feelings to this serious international problem.
(Released with English subtitles by Miramax and rated "PG" for language and brief violence.)