There are some films that touch your heart in manners you cannot fathom – and Majidi’s films seem to fit this category perfectly. After watching the heartfelt Children of Heaven and the heartbreaking Colour of Paradise, moving to Majidi’s poignant masterpiece Baran was inevitable. After watching it last night, I have only one thing to say. This is perhaps one of the purest love stories I have had the good fortune of ‘experiencing’ – and I say ‘experience’ because it really feels like one.
Majidi is an acclaimed Oscar nominated Iranian director who is renowned for this subtlety and sensitivity. He picks stories that you or I would never dream of choosing – stories about lost shoes, blind children, and the silent love one construction worker has for another. There is no live-action director that can possibly touch his simplicity in making films – his focus on the small joys of life rather than the bigger achievements. His protagonists are poor people who find joys in the most seemingly insignificant actions, such as blowing bubbles, running hands across wheat fields and waiting for a cup of tea.
Baran is a beautiful film – put simplistically. Is it possible to expect such beautiful cinematography when an entire film is shot primarily in a building that is being constructed? This is not Hollywood, or Bollywood for that matter and all these poor living conditions are not glamorised in any manner. What we see is a construction site, as real as it is supposed to look, and a refugee camp, as stripped of elegance as a slum. But not a single shot looks ugly.
Instead Majidi makes all his shots look aesthetic – whether they are the rolling valleys in Colour of Paradise, the narrow alleys of Children of Heaven, or the smoke from the tar drums in Baran. Cinematographer Mohammad Davudi (Baran, Colour of Paradise) seems to know exactly how to make the bleakest place look beautiful. There isn’t a single frame that looks amateurish – and this is in a film made from a budget a fraction of a ‘similar’ Hollywood or Bollywood movie. Well to be perfectly honest, there can’t be a movie in Hollywood or Bollywood that is similar to any of Majidi’s films.
The strength of Majidi’s films also lies in his cast choices. None of his films have suffered from poor acting. This is perhaps because his actors are ‘real people’ who seem to move effortlessly from one scene to another without ever letting you get the hint that they are first time actors. With the exception of Mohammed Amir Naji who seems to be a constant favourite of Majidi’s, the other actors are first timers and have only acted in one film.
Baran’s protagonists Lateef (Hossein Abedini in his second film role) and Rahmat/Baran (played by first timer Zahra Bahrami) are absolutely perfect in the film. Though there is virtually no contact between the two, the intensity of Lateef’s love for Baran is visible in every single frame after he realises his feelings for her. He waits to see her walk to work from a top floor. He waits for her to serve tea to the workers, looking slightly dejected when he is handed tea by Soltan. He also looks heartbroken when he sees her moving stones from the water. While Baran says nothing, her innocence is depicted in her eyes, which reflect bewilderment when Lateef changes his attitude towards her. In an almost completely non-speaking role, Bahrami’s silence and expressive eyes completely reveal her displacement, discomfort in an unfamiliar environment, and towards the end, full gratitude, and even perhaps love.
Direction wise, Majidi shocks us once again. It is difficult to come up with any imperfections that this movie might possess. I’ve heard a number of people who have watched this film complain about Abedini’s non-photogenic face (which I think is being rather unfair and rude actually). You cannot help but love his childlike smile and his gradual change in character throughout the film. Primarily, let’s not forget that this film is very realistic. It would be ridiculous to expect the male protagonist to look like Brad Pitt or Tom Cruise. In fact I’m happy that Majidi chose ‘real’ looking people to be his characters.
Other people have complaints about the seemingly ‘simplistic’ falling-in-love story. However, it is not that simple, but innocent. Lateef dislikes Rahmat initially because their jobs are switched and now Lateef has to do the back breaking work. He also seems to have a negative attitude towards Afghans in general, thinking that they are taking away Iranian jobs. However, once he finds out that Rahmat is actually a girl, he becomes more considerate, understanding why she couldn’t do the physically demanding tasks. Let us not forget too that Lateef is 17 and Rahmat/Baran is only 14, which again puts across the point that Baran is physically weaker. Lateef becomes protective, holding her secret as his, and slowly begins to appreciate Baran’s kindness towards others. I recall this beautiful scene where Lateef watches Baran throwing shreds of leftover Nan (a flatbread) for pigeons to eat.
It is this unspoken love for Baran that grows within Lateef. He sees that Baran’s family is even worse off than he is and he therefore he wishes to be her secret benefactor though he himself has very little money (if any) to give to her family. It is for this silent love that he does absolutely everything for.
I cannot say anything more without revealing some major spoilers so I’ll stop here. However, I will say that Baran is one film that makes you believe in the power of pure love. You will be touched by the fact that people in such difficult situations can love so deeply and can readily give up their material possessions for their love.
Without a doubt, Baran is one of the most poetic and beautifully made films I’ve ever seen. If you think a love film has to have interactions, words, physical actions and chance encounters, Baran will change your entire perception about that. If you want to see how a beautiful love story can be made without a single word or a single touch, then Baran is the perfect film to watch.
I cannot recommend this film enough.