"Baran" ... realism and compassion captured in a poetry of visuals.  

POIGNANT, LUMINOUSLY simple, it is an example of how a film can be such an enriching experience! With minimum facilities, no starry presence and straight from the heart narration, Miramax-presented (a Shringar Films release) ``Baran" (Rain), showed why Iranian films have an edge over the others. And this comes from the element of realism, compassion and good story telling they have. It is rather amazing really, that in a country where repression is common filmmakers are able to come out with ventures that are understated, yet powerful.

``Baran" (with subtitles in English) is modest, spare, and fragile even and the poetry of visuals makes it one of most honest pieces of work. The story itself is of nothing unusual — based on the boy-meets-girl theme. But put in such an austere, socio-political set up it is not only incisive, but profound as well without being heavy on the senses.

The film opens with the quick scrolling of the Afghan refugee situation in Iran. Several years of war and devastation in Afghanistan, has forced many to flee to neighbouring Iran. Uprooted and poverty-stricken, they are people with no identity in the new country and often have to find work stealthily. Which means they can get jobs illegally and for very poor wages.

The theme of illegal immigrant workers is nothing new but here it has been worked into the script so smoothly that the basis of love and faith seems an imperceptible part of the whole thing.

In a half constructed building site, Lateef (Hossein Abidini) is the odd boy doing chores like making tea and buying bread for the labourers. He is 17, brash and hot tempered. Constantly getting into fights with fellow workers who call his tea `dishwater.' Things change when there is an accident on the site where Najaf (Gholam Ali Bakhsi) injures his leg forcing him to stay at home and his young boy, Rahmat, appears to try and earn some money for the large family. Rahmat, being of slight build, is hardly able to withstand hard physical labour and carry heavy sacks of cement. One day a worker below finds himself covered with the powder when it slips from Rahmat's back. Soltan, a family friend of Najaf, pleads with the site manager Memar, a gruff but well-meaning man, to find something for Rahmat. Memar decides that Lateef would have to change his duties and gives his job to Rahmat. Furious and resentful, Lateef tries to make Rahmat's job difficult.

He constantly finds ways of harassing Rahmat till one day he finds out the truth. Under all that heavy clothing is a young girl, Baran (Zahra Bahrami), who is there to somehow work and feed the family.

Now Lateef changes. Love makes him alter his ways and be sympathetic and protective of Baran.

But it is not easy for Memar who employs a lot of illegal Afghans at the site and has to put up with regular visits from officials who come for inspection. These are scenes filled with humour when the Afghans scramble to hiding places and remain there till the inspectors leave. It is during one of these visits that the officials get wind of Memar's doings and Lateef saves Rahmat from being caught by a suspicious official. Memar is forced to get rid of all the Afghans including Baran and Lateef is thrown into depression. He risks everything he has worked for to find Baran and to make her life easier. Tangibly he gets nothing from all his efforts but it is a turn that will make for a new but uncertain future.

The affection that Lateef feels for Baran is innocent and shorn of all pretences. And doomed as well, from the beginning. There is love for the characters, but no drama that would detract from such plain speaking. Though the plight of the Afghan workers forms the background to the main players, there is no shallowness of their exploitation at work and the hostility from the locals. There are many unforgettable scenes in Baran — the rain for starters which pervades their lives in work and home, Baran's expression which shows every nuance, without verbal articulation, Lateef's loneliness amidst the workers while he muses about his situation, the final moments when Baran flips back her burkha and Lateef is left to pick up the thread of his now uncertain life, and the relentless rain again that fills up the imprint of a shoe! Directed and written by Majid Maijdi, the film has marvellous cinematography (Mohammed Davudi) with its pristine tableaux's throughout and minimalist music that underlines the mood ranging from the frivolous to the hopeless. A must see!