is an Iranian film written and directed by Majid Majidi, best known for Children of Heaven
(which I’ve seen and love) and The Color of Paradise
, which I’ve not seen. This time he’s dealing with the relationships between native Iranians and the Afghan refugees who fled to that country around the time of the Russian invasion and the civil war which resulted in the victory of the Taliban. The film is set about twenty years later, and over a million Afghan children have been born and/or grown up out of sight of their homeland. There is a touch of irony here that the film doesn’t really deal with, that to these Afghans, the Ayatollah’s Iran was an oasis of freedom.
Hosseini Abedini plays Latif, an Iranian who works at a construction site, cooking dispensing weak tea, and running into town to buy food and cigarettes. The contractors use some Iranians, legal minorities, and a lot of illegal Afghans, the last because they can work for lower wages. The situation is similar to migrant workers in sweatshops. As near as I can tell from the construction, the employers are getting the quality of work they are paying for. This building has one of the ugliest, least comforting interiors I’ve ever seen. When inspectors come buy, the illegal workers must hide. When they ask Latif if there are any Afghan workers, he says yes, and singles out himself. This is a touch of irony which becomes apt as the movie progresses.
One day, an Afghan named Najaf falls and injures his foot. Since he has a family to support and is unable to work, he sends his young son Rahmat to work in his place. Unfortunately, Rahmat is too weak to do the work. Out of pity for Najaf’s family, the foreman gives Rahmat Latif’s job, meaning that Latif must start doing heavy work. In resentment, he starts playing practical jokes and trashes the kitchen, and basically acts like a young punk. However, Rahmat thrives in the new job, which makes Latif even angrier.
Then Latif accidentally discovers Rahmat’s secret. Rahmat is a girl (named Baran, naturally)! Suddenly Latif’s entire attitude changes as his hormones come into play. (It’s possible the director may have had Latif acting like an asshole because he was feeling an attraction to one he thought was a boy, but I think Latif was simply a spoiled jackass.) He tries to befriend her, helping and defending her. This is difficult, especially since to hide her identity, Baran is mute.
One day the inspectors decide to question Baran about Afghans working at the construction site. She runs, inspectors in pursuit, Latif in pursuit of inspectors. This episode results in all the Afghans being laid off. Latif decides to follow Baran into the Afghan shantytown, where he gets a view of the Afghan poverty and what they have to go through to survive. He decides to help by throwing money at Baran’s family, money that is not welcome coming from him. It is very helpful, however, to the refugees who wish to go home to visit their ailing relatives living in Afghanistan. Baran is not free; when her father leaves, she must go with him. The film ends with her donning the veil the Afghan women had to wear under the Taliban. On a more hopeful note, the film was released before 9/11. Maybe her family had to flee again after the allied invasion and she got to come back and was reunited with Latif. On the other hand…
Latif now has no money and no identification card. (He sold it on the black market.) More important, he is also a bloody idiot. Although he is infatuated with Baran, it is not at all clear to me that she feels much in return, and his sacrifices generally backfire. The film does end with a smile on his face, because he sacrificed in a good cause, even if it didn’t work out.
I had serious difficulty with this movie. The sections in the construction site tend to be slow and not very interesting. The sections in the Afghan community are much more interesting. Because there is so little connection between Ratif and Baran—no physical contact and conversation all on Ratif’s side, I found it hard to really feel regret for his frustrated passion. I found it hard to feel much affection for these characters. I was pleased, after watching Secret Ballot
a few days earlier, to see a part of Iran where there is water, plant life and actual food. I also found it nice that, at least in the Afghan community, there was some actual color to life. Outside of the Afghan community, it seemed rather colorless or sterile.
All in all, somewhat of a disappointment after Children of Heaven
. I did find it interesting to get this glimpse into another culture, but I went away wanting much more than a glimpse.