Office Christmas Party
Another reminder that allowing your cast to madly improvise instead of actually providing a coherent script with a scintilla of inherent logic often leads to…
What are they like, over there in Iran? Are they all glowering fanatics, stewing in resentment of America? What's your mental image? When a land is distant, unknown and labeled as an enemy, it's easy to think in simple terms. No doubt Iranians are as quick to think evil about us as we are to think evil about them. The intriguing thing about an Iranian movie like "Baran" is that it gives human faces to these strangers. It could be a useful learning tool for those who have not traveled widely, who never see foreign films, who reduce whole nations to labels.
The movie is a romantic fable about a construction worker. His name is Lateef (Hossein Abedini), and he labors on a building site not far from the border with Afghanistan. All of the labor here is manual, including hauling 50-pound bags of cement up a series of ramps. Lateef doesn't actually work very hard, since he is Iranian and most of the labor is being done by underpaid refugees from Afghanistan. Lateef is the tea boy, bringing hot cups to the workers and drinking more than his own share.
We learn at the beginning of the movie that millions of Afghanis have poured into Iran as refugees. Since it is illegal to hire them, they work secretly for low wages, like undocumented Mexicans in America. Many are fleeing the Taliban for the comparatively greater freedom and prosperity of Iran, a distinction that may seem small to us, but not to them. (The title cards carrying this information were already in place when the film debuted at the 2001 Montreal and Toronto festivals, and were not added post-9/11.) One day there is an accident on the site. A man named Najaf injures his leg, and that is a catastrophe, because he has five children to feed in the squatters' camp where his family lives. Najaf sends his son Rahmat (Zahra Bahrami) to take his place, but the son is small, slight and young, and staggers under the burden of the concrete sacks. So Memar, the construction boss, who pays low wages but is not unkind, gives Rahmat the job of tea boy and reassigns Lateef to real work.
Lateef is lazy, immature, resentful. He trashes the kitchen in revenge, and makes things hard for Rahmat. Yet at the same time he finds something intriguing about the new tea boy, and eventually Lateef discovers the secret: The boy is a girl. So desperate for money was Rahmat's family that in a society where women are strictly forbidden from mixing with men on a job like this, a deception was planned. In keeping the secret, Lateef begins his journey to manhood and tolerance.
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