Director: Majid Majidi; country: Iran; 95 minutes
Ronak for introducing me to this great director. I agree with his asessment. He is a class apart-be it Kurosawa or our own great Ray. Majidi is a voice deeply Asiatic--perhaps accounting for his lukewarm reception in the West.
It is a great humanistic film. It has made the Middle East come alive for me--indeed a window to this less understood region of the world. It is a tragedy of simple folk trapped at the conflux of man-created disasters, of adolescene and love in the background of Islamic culture. It has eternity packed in it's 95 minutes, so dense and powerful is the experience. It projects the Islamic ethos-brotherhood, caring, egalitarianism- at it's distilled best.
The film is set on a construction site in Teheran illegally employing Afghan refugees on the run from the disturbances in their country. The Afghan workers must immediately hide whenever government inspectors are working. Lateef, the hero, is a growing Irani boy employed there and the film revolves around his attraction to Baran, the daughter of an Afghan worker who is rendered jobless due to a construction accident. Baran is actually a young girl posing as a boy to be able to to work and support her family which is in desperate straits. Lateef grows from a greedy, awkward and quarrelsome youngster and we see feelings of compassion, love and sacrifice flowering in him. This may seem slightly foreign to westernised eyes who may find a flagrant display of nobility undigestible to their cynical appetites but nobody will deny the existence of such sentiments, even though, at least in the west, they like their nobility gruff and disguised. The love is depicted with utter delicacy and sensitivity in the cloistered and semi-purdahed environment. Possibly it was necessary to adopt the device of a girl dressed as a boy to display the beauty of a female face. Other female figures are seen only remotely and in outline. The refined eroticism of this film I have rarely seen matched. The tension in the film builds up almost unbearably. Towards the end, the truck carrying Baran and her family to their Afghan homeland disappears towards the mountains, as she peers through the holes in her burqua. The only reward Lateef gets for his noble sacrifice ( of his most precious asset, his identification card, which is his passport for a job ) is the hint of a smile, and this is his treasure. As a scripture states: more precious than the the treasures of the storehouse are the treasures of the body, but most precious are the treasures of the heart.
It is outstanding cinema. Half the film is on the contruction site and we see the community at work among the scaffoldings of an upcoming apartment omplex with the skyscrapers of Teheran and still more towering snow clad mounains further behind. Music is of natural sounds-the sounds of a building under construction, the slow cadences of the Persian language, the gurgle of rapidly flowing mountain torrents, a traditional song and dance by the construction workers around a bonfire ( I never realised Iran is so cold, much like Kashmir )--and the barest hint of an ethnic background score. The latter half of the film is among the flowing waters and springs where the refugees endure their unwelcomed exile--nature is at her breath taking best and it is no picture post-cards as we are used to in Bollywood films, but a camera that ravishes with intimacy and passion.
What really struck me was the brotherhood that exists among these poor people. Poverty and desperation bring people together ( as we see in many black American communities ). These people do not worship money even in the most difficult circumstances--money is treated as a commodity as it should be. Nor is humanity something to be ashamed or embarassed about. Being Dr. Lecter is (or should be) more embarassing.
A film oriental to the core which an Indian can easily identify with. Far, far, beyond Bollywood or Hollywood. Satyajit Ray is a sensitive and observant humanist, but cinematically closer to the west. Passion is not his fault. The delights of Ray are aesthetic and self recognition as an Indian. Comparison is meaningless among the peaks, yet Majidi touches our life at it's core in a vast sweep of human feeling.
A cry from the depths of the orient. It makes me glad that I never left. Ebert rightly points out that such films can demolish the walls of mutual ignorance and misunderstanding which are the greatest threat to our world. He calls it a fable but is idealism a mythical beast or an extinct species?