English Title: Baran

Original Title: Baran

Country of Origin: Iran

Studio: Fouad Nahas

Director: Majid Majidi

Producer(s): Majid Majidi, Fouad Nahas

Screenplay: Majid Majidi

Cinematographer: Mohammed Davudi

Art Director: Bahzad Kazzazi

Editor: Hassan Hassandoost

Runtime: 94 minutes

Genre: Drama, Melodrama, Love story, Refugees

Starring/Cast: Hossein Abedini, Zahra Bahrami, Hossein Mahjoob, Reza Naji, Mohammad Amir Naji, Hossein Rahimi

Year: 2001

Volume: Iranian

A young Afghan woman named Baran (Zahra Bahrami) is forced to disguise herself as a boy named Rahmat in order to gain employment on a building site on the outskirts of Tehran. On the building site, she encounters Lateef (Hossein Abedini), an adolescent worker whose fiery temper is ignited when the boss gives Rahmat his job of shopping, cooking, and making tea for the workers. But when Lateef discovers Baran’s true identity, his anger turns to love. There is nothing in the world he would not do for her.

Inspired by the lack of awareness − both in Iran and internationally − of the plight of Afghan refugees, Baran serves as a moving and poetic commentary on the legal and social status of Afghans living and working (many of them illegally) in Iran. One of the film’s most striking achievements is the skilful way Majidi embeds this social commentary within a moving story of passionate but ultimately unrequited young love, allowing it to function allegorically on numerous levels simultaneously. This is achieved on one level as an allegory (rather than a direct representation) of physical love through the use of very clever and subtle cinematic devices. The soundtrack and mise en scène of wind and rain, a wild river, steam, fire, colour, birds and bread, all function to displace emotion metaphorically onto the objective world around the characters, to create an emotionally charged environment that envelops them, standing in for the love they dare not acknowledge outwardly. This is emphasized further by Majidi’s occasional use of an indirect subjective camera, which enables the viewer to experience Lateef’s passion with rather than through him, as conventional devices of point-of-view might encourage. This is perhaps most evident in the scene where Lateef first discovers Baran’s true identity as a woman. Majidi is careful to ‘veil’ Baran with a frosted window as she brushes her long tresses, and although the use of shot-reverse-shot suggests that we are witnessing the scene through Lateef’s eyes, this impression is modified when Lateef steps into an apparently subjective shot. Throughout the film, Majidi generates a deep sense of emotion and intimacy without ever showing any physical contact between Lateef and Baran, and without ever violating neither the character’s nor the viewer’s modesty.
On another level, by couching this love story in the broader context of the socio-economic condition of Afghan refugees in Iran, Majidi produces yet another level of discursive meaning where an ideal model of Islamic love and charity toward others may be perceived, effectively embodying a highly idealized conception of the nation. This is perhaps most evident in the film’s narrative trajectory and characterization. Through the character of Lateef, a simple adolescent gofer working on a building site, Majidi constructs an exemplary model of selfless devotion and modesty, despite his rather unpredictable adolescent state. Besotted by Baran, but aware of the social and cultural restraints preventing them from coming together, Lateef sacrifices all to help Baran and her family return to Afghanistan, knowing he may never see nor hear from her again. It is possible to read his actions merely on a personal level, however his behaviour also functions as a powerful illustration of the practice of welcoming Muslim refugees. Through his actions, Lateef embodies the principle of treating Baran as a member of the Mohajerin (‘involuntary religious migrants’) a principle enshrined in the Quran calling upon Muslims to extend generous hospitality to such migrants, even if this may lead to one’s own poverty. Ironically, while Lateef performs two significant self-sacrificing acts (giving his entire savings and selling his identity card) that deeply reflect this principle, the position of the state − represented by the government inspector who comes to check the building site for illegal workers − is to seek out and expel the Afghans who, by their lack of legal status, may not work without a permit. This detail of the film closely reflects Iran’s changing policy towards Afghan refugees who, after 1993, were classified under the rather pejorative label of ‘panahandegan’ (refugees) and were subject to tougher restrictions on access to work and other civil services. Lateef’s strong sense of both personal and Islamic devotion to Baran and her family is clearly being contrasted here, with a view of the state’s rather pragmatic approach to the refugee question. While spectators may become deeply immersed in the love story, Majidi also intends to provoke a consideration of the refugee question in contemporary Iran.

Author of this review: Michelle Langford