BARAN (Majid Majidi) Rating: NNN
In this timely and stark film about Afghan refugees in Iran, real-life refugee Zahra Bahrami stars as the eponymous Baran, the daughter of a construction worker who disguises herself as the boy Rahmat in order to support her family after her father is injured on the job. She takes over caretaker duties on the construction site, which infuriates former Boy Friday Lateef (Hossein Abedini), who does everything he can to sabotage her. But when Lateef discovers Rahmat's secret, he's immediately -- and implausibly -- smitten and puts himself on the line to protect her. By using mostly untrained actors, director Majidi (Children Of Heaven, The Colour Of Paradise) underscores the film's naturalistic quality. At times Baran feels more like a documentary than a drama -- the performances aren't exactly Oscar-calibre, and the clunky delivery can be frustrating. Bahrami stands out in a role without dialogue, creating a complex personality through her expressive eyes. Majidi crams every frame with the grimy textures of urban and rural Iran, bringing the political chaos of the Middle East into focus on a very personal level. It's educational and depressing as hell, but never preachy.