“Baran” puts a human face on a statistic we Americans are only vaguely aware of: 1.5 million Afghan refugees live in Iran, where they are not allowed to work without special permission.
The specific human face is that of Lateef (Hossein Abedini), a tactless, immature teen-ager who pretends to work at a construction site but mostly just loafs around. It’s the Afghans who do the difficult work, though they must scramble to hide every time a government inspector (Jafar Tawakoli) comes around.
At the film’s outset, an Afghan worker named Najaf (Gholam Ali Bakhshi) is injured on the job and unable to work anymore. In desperation — we gather there is no worker’s comp in Iran, or at least not for an illegal alien — he sends his daughter (Zahra Bahrami) to work, dressed like a young man everyone calls Rohmat. Lateef behaves spitefully toward “him” until he discovers the kid’s secret and becomes powerfully drawn to her.
But these are difficult times for everyone, and nothing is conducive to blossoming love. When one part of the equation is masquerading as a man, that just makes it more difficult.
The selflessness of Lateef’s behavior, and his gradual transition into adulthood, give the film a good deal of sweetness. This is enhanced by writer/director Majid Majidi’s intimate style and cinematographer Mohammad Davudi’s bittersweetly realistic depiction of Tehran.
I only wish that Hossein Abedini, acting in only his second film, were better at his few really emotional scenes, where he comes up embarrassingly flat. Otherwise, “Baran” is lovely and poignant and may help us foreigners better understand our quarrelsome neighbors to the east.
B (1 hr., 34 min.; )