Baran: A Movie of Afghan Immigrants to Iran

Baran, another very fine movie from Iranian master Majid Majidi [see reviews of his Color of Paradise and The Song of the Sparrows ] informs us in his usual beautiful, well paced way of lives we know little or nothing at all, combined with emotions and relations we know bone deep.  Baran takes us to the Iranian border with Afghanistan where over 1 million refugees fled from the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and wars following wars following wars.  As everywhere, the plight of refugees is cruel.  Removed from their own countries, often from remote rural areas which once constituted their entire world, living in squalid, hastily put together camps without plumbing, electricity or the tools or sense of belonging to use them, they seek work where they find it, at wages below the prevailing native norm.

Much of Baran takes place on a building site where men build and destroy cinder-block and mortar walls in the most appalling safety conditions you can imagine.  I’ve been on Mexican building sites.  They are absolutely Inspection Ready compared to this one.  Many of the workers are Afghan refugees; all men and all illegal.  When one of them falls from the unguarded second floor and shatters his foot not only is his family in extreme difficulty but the building inspectors begin to descend on the Iranian contractor doing the work.

“Afghans!  Afghans run! the shout is taken up and half the workforce clears out — just as Migra raids in Southern California.

A work partner of the disabled Afghani brings his “son,” Rahmat to take his place, promising to watch over him.  The boy soon shows himself as too weak and clumsy to carry sacks of cement up and down make-shift stairways, or wield a sledge hammer.  He is swapped with a tall young Iranian boy, Lateef,  who had been doing the kitchen duties and resents his promotion to much harder work.  He begins to spy on and taunt Rahmat until he discovers what we have suspected from the beginning.  Rahmat is a young girl.

The wonderful central theme is Lateef’s increasing care for her, protecting her while trying to live within the customs of men and women apart, his own love-born shyness, and not wanting to jeopardize her work, and therefore nearness to him.  He goes to increasing lengths to help her, demanding his back wages from the brusque but kind hearted contractor, and selling his identity card on the black market.  Each time the money does not work as he intended.  He is as far as ever from her though eventually she recognizes him, and his intentions.

The ending is bitter sweet as the last gift of money doesn’t help the crippled father stay in Iran but to take the family back to Afghanistan.  The parting scene between the two is very compelling stuff.  The family is boarding a rickety pickup truck in the driving rain when the two finally exchange their recognition of love.  The best  best Cinderella moment I’ve ever seen in life or a movie takes place and then, water splashing into her footprint, the truck moves off.  She is gazing out through a netted niqab at him.  He is smiles at footprint and the water.  Water thrown at departing friends in Iran is a promise of return.

As is typical with Majidi the colors are saturated and rich.  Here, instead of flowers, and streams — though there is one river of particular and harrowing importance– he brings us into the construction site, with billowing gray dust, pouring rain, ruined barrels of steaming liquids, fires to heat the material, the slop of mortar.  It is very much a Dantesque scene, with great snow covered mountains in the background.  Steam coming from the workers mouths and nostrils, eagerly reaching semi-gloved fingers for the hot tea served all around.

I’ve never seen a movie so bound to workers lives as Baran; the constant, brutal physical labor, the fear of losing the job, the intimidating shouts and threats of the contractor.  Even away from this job site work is hard and dangerous.  Women, in full Afghan dress, pull stones and branches from a rushing river — again no safety equipment.  Them major theme of fierce sexual separation and how it is both “natural” and deformative runs the length of the movie.   The girl’s determination to break that wall as best she can to help her family; the Iranian suitor stepping outside his own walls to answer the mystery of his heart.

Our view of immigrants up against the larger culture, the disdain for them, their language and customs from the dominant one will ring familiar to all who pay attention to life here in the United States– but in the movie it is between people we would hardly have thought of in such a context.  And of course, we are reminded, mostly as background but also in one wrenching scene, of the war and the wars that continue to take lives of young people, and leave their families with gaping holes.

And through this, a  dawning love softens a crazy kid, puts him into his very best clothes to make an impression and drives him towards his loved one, despised immigrant or not.  This, he understands in the pouring rain,  is the love I will have in my life.

Every film of Majid Majidi’s is so wonderfully wrought I would go hours out of my way to see anything with his name on it, no title or plot needed, confident I would come away, once again, stirred by the shimmering colors of his human palate.

Iran: All Eyes On

Steve Clemons at The Washington Note reported this on Thursday.

Multiple sources have reported that a senior aide on Vice President Cheney’s national security team has been meeting with policy hands of the American Enterprise Institute, one other think tank, and more than one national security consulting house and explicitly stating that Vice President Cheney does not support President Bush’s tack towards Condoleezza Rice’s diplomatic efforts and fears that the President is taking diplomacy with Iran too seriously.

This White House official has stated to several Washington insiders that Cheney is planning to deploy an “end run strategy” around the President if he and his team lose the policy argument.

The thinking on Cheney’s team is to collude with Israel, nudging Israel at some key moment in the ongoing standoff between Iran’s nuclear activities and international frustration over this to mount a small-scale conventional strike against Natanz using cruise missiles (i.e., not ballistic missiles).

This strategy would sidestep controversies over bomber aircraft and overflight rights over other Middle East nations and could be expected to trigger a sufficient Iranian counter-strike against US forces in the Gulf — which just became significantly larger — as to compel Bush to forgo the diplomatic track that the administration realists are advocating and engage in another war.

Much more of a must read at The Washington Note

Joe Klein at Time, confirms some of Clemon’s report and adds.

Iran “Defector” Update 03/22

It gives me no pleasure to share with you that a certified spook, writing for Time magazine, shares the concerns I’ve expressed over the whereabouts, and whoabouts of General Ali Reza Asgari.

General Ali Reza Asgari, a former intelligence officer in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and deputy defense minister until 2005, was last seen in public around December 7 in Istanbul. Iran says Israel and the United States kidnapped him, presumably to coerce him into telling lies about Iran. The Washington Post has reported he is in U.S. custody, spilling his guts, and more recently the New York Times reported that the German defense minister, when asked about Asgari’s whereabouts, said “I cannot say anything on this issue.” But both the U.S. and Israel deny having him, let alone kidnapping him.

Robert Baer, Time Mag

Bear in mind, it’s not what he might know or tell about his past that worries me. It’s what might be said about what he said, or what he might say that seems like something he said, and most of all what might be done in the name of what he has said, alleged to have said, or can be assumed to have said given other things said, by others.

There are lunatics in the wheelhouse of the ship of state and they will run us all up on the rocks to prove they are there.

Carrier Task Force to Middle East

A recent analyis piece in the Nation suggested that the deployment of a carrier task force to the Middle East was sign certain of Bush plans for attacking Iran. I’m not so sure.

The aircraft carrier Eisenhower, fresh from refueling and overhaul at Northrop Grumman Newport News, sails Tuesday from Norfolk to relieve the USS Enterprise in the Middle East.

Commanded by Rear Adm. Allen G. Myers, the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group also includes the guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio, guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage, guided-missile destroyer USS Mason and the fast-attack submarine USS Newport News.

The Enterprise group, being relieved, is almost the identical composition: the cruiser USS Leyte Gulf, the destroyer USS McFaul, the frigate USS Nicholas and the attack submarine USS Alexandria.

Daily Press: Newport News

This is not to say that Bush isn’t thinking about attacking Iran, or that he wants Iran to think he is thinking about attacking them. It is not to say that other information has not dribbled into the public sphere suggesting something is afoot (er, afloat). It is not to say that this carrier group, as the one it is replacing has been, won’t be sending lethal weapons to cities, towns and hamlets thousands of miles away. It is not to say that force projection of this magnitude is necessary or defensible. It is only to say that the deployment of a carrier task force is not a proof, or even a substantial piece of evidence as to new madness. Now, if the Enterprise group were stay, instead of returning, or if the 7th Fleet carrier group in and around Japan were to head to the Gulf of Oman — then we would properly fear the October Surprise was more than man-kisses-boy last minute headlines…

Iran: Danger Bells

Jack Kaplan forwards this article from the Nation:

The Nation has learned that the Bush Administration and the Pentagon have moved up the deployment of a major “strike group” of ships, including the nuclear aircraft carrier Eisenhower as well as a cruiser, destroyer, frigate, submarine escort and supply ship, to head for the Persian Gulf, just off Iran’s western coast. …

First word of the early dispatch of the “Ike Strike” group to the Persian Gulf region came from several angry officers on the ships involved, who contacted antiwar critics like retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner and complained that they were being sent to attack Iran without any order from the Congress.

Read more of this post

Ney – Iran Gone Missing

It is nothing short of amazing that the guilty plea of Congressman Robert Ney of Ohio has A) created such a little splash, and B) has not been connected to wider issues in the health of the nation. Witness this little paragraph in the Justice Department release on his plea:

In his plea agreement, Ney also admitted to charges that he had accepted thousands of dollars worth of gambling chips from a foreign businessman. According to the documents filed today in court, in February 2003 and again in August 2003, Ney made two trips to London, during each of which he and members of his staff met with a foreign businessman who was hoping to sell U.S.-made airplanes and airplane parts in a foreign country.

via TPM Muckraker

Who is this foreign business man and what is the foreign country? Both are well known — though here unnamed, and elsewhere little talked about.

The man is a Syrian national known as “The Fat Man” a habituee of London gambling parlours, and a partner in FN Aviation of Cyprus — which wanted to get some deals done with the “foreign country,” Iran. Not only that, but two bottom feeders from Harriet Meyers Texas law firm are involved, and Wait! There’s More! You can read more about these fine fellows and their relation to Mr. Ney here and here.

Ney himself was a Persian speaker (of unknown fluency), having spent some time in Iran as an ESL teacher.

Wayne Madsen, always rich with hidden tunnels and unexpected connections, sees a very bizarre scheme afoot in which Ney is privy to damaging information about arms smuggling and the vice president.

In reality, Gonzales’ prosecutors are more interested in how much Ney discovered about links between top GOP and White House officials and the arms smuggling business involving Iran, Iraq, and the Zayat, Abdul Qadeer (AQ) Khan, and other shady networks connected to neocon and Russian-Israeli Mafia activities. By finding out what Ney knows, Cheney and his neocon provocateurs will be able to neutralize any embarrassing information on their proliferation activities prior to the November 7 election.

I can seldom follow Madsen’s prose, much less his conceptual lattice, but here’s a link if you want to give it a try. Scroll down to Sep. 17-18, 2006 — SPECIAL REPORT. Madsen doesn’t use “hot links” like the rest of the blogging world.

So, while I am dubious of Madsen’s claims it sure seems that Mr Ney’s connections with arms dealers and Iran, not to mention putative former CIA connections, would be worth a long hard look. Toledo Blade, where are you? [This is the only article on Ney that turns up in a search on their web site.]

Iran: Reckless GOP Dreck

You may recall a day or so ago much brouhaha over the release of a House Sub-committee On Intelligence report on the state of military matters in Iran. Alarm bells started ringing in the homes of the sane and the sceptical, including the august N Y Times editorial pages with it’s headline: Wanted: Scarier Intelligence. Well guess what?

You know who the author is — Bolton’s former top aide. He had been actively seeking employment on the Hill for a full year, ever since the Bolton confirmation hearings in June of 2005. From what I am told, he was given the brush off from almost everyone. So I was very surprised to hear from an acquaintance two weeks ago that he was now on HPSCI. The timing of the report was no accident. The Committee should be embarrased by this document — it has nothing to do with intelligence and everything to do with a jeremiad against [Iran.]

…It was riddled with many, many errors — the ones that Gary Sick highlighted were different from those I saw. At the end of the day, the document is so absurd that giving it further attention is plain detrimental. …

War and Piece

Make sure you look at the list of a few of the egregious errors in the report.