Monday, November 23, 2009

Baran ( 2001 ) : a breath taking film

Director: Majid Majidi; country: Iran; 95 minutes

I must thank blogger 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?

12 comments:

Literary Dreamer said...

Another film to add to my list! I only hope I live long enough to see all of these great films, hopefully multiple times.

S. M. Rana said...

@Greg Salvatore,

This was different.

One can't see 'em all any more than read 'em all. There are many books I wish I had read but am kind of reconciled to reading next time over ( lifetime, I mean ), like War and Peace, Dante, Milton. i agree, one lifetime is too, too short.

Ronak M Soni said...

Thanks for linking to me.

As for idealism, it's neither a mythical beast nor an extinct species, just endangered.

This sounds really different from The Song of Sparrows, apart from its effect.

More Irani recommendation in the comments section. Seems all the Irani directors are like this. (LD, your list has just quadrupled in size; mwuha hahaha)

Ronak M Soni said...

Also, Irani women are surprisingly beautiful (where I'd expect life-hardened stubborn faces, I see frank faces with susurrating yet tinny voices).

All the women were in purdah? In The Song of Sparrows and The White Balloon none of them are. I just assumed the tradition had never taken hold there.

S M Rana said...

@ Ronak

The purdah part seems more applicable to the Afghan emigres, who the film is more largely about.

Ronak M Soni said...

And if we are talking about the relation between Ray and the west, here's an article that ran recently. I don't know what to make of it, as I have never watched Ray, but am thinking that it's inevitable that nuance will get lost in an international setting.

S M Rana said...

Ray is the greatest Indian film maker known to movie. His only Hindi movie, Shatranj ke Khilari, is the best Hindi movie, I'm sure. I have seen about half a dozen of his Bengali films and in terms of restraint and aesthetic sensibility he beats Majidi.

Apart from a gentle, poetic and compassionate personality, he has a perfect sense of Indian history-Charulata, a love story set in conservative upper caste Bengali family in the 1870s is a perfect slice of history. So I think is the above Hindi movie, which is a hilarious account of the way the British insinuated into power.

He is the most authentically Indian of all directors, for all his talked of influence from the likes of Vittorio de Sica's Bicycle Thief. He speaks straight to the indian-ness of our hearts.

After seeing Majidi, I was keen to see Ray's first film, Pather Panchali, for a second time, but my copy seems to be the worse for years on the shelf. I hope to be doing it soon.

Literary Dreamer said...

@Ronak

Yes, my list has just quadrupled, but that's not a bad thing. :-)

Also, interesting article on Ray and the West. I'm sure the reason that most Western reviewers concentrate on the universality of his themes is that they do not know enough about Indian life or culture to do it justice by pointing out references to it in his films. On the other hand, didn't Ebert write that the more culturally specific a film is, the more universal it is (when I find the actual quote, I'll post it here--no luck so far)? So, in a sense, they are applauding both.

S M Rana said...

That's certainly correct, LD. Ray's movies are specifically targetted at an Indian audience, even a Bengali audience, yet they portray universal themes. Suffering has a million names yet its still suffering. Clearly shows the more folks are different, the more they are the same,just as Ebert says.

Literary Dreamer said...

Speaking of Ebert and Ray, you can copy and paste this link to Ebert's review of the Apu Trilogy in his Great Movies section. It certainly made me want to seek them out: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20010304/REVIEWS08/103040301/1023

Ronak M Soni said...

That, LD, may be the best movie essay I've ever read.
It takes its place beside his Ikiru essay, another one which moved me to tears.

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