Current events sharpen the soft sorrow of Baran to a finer edge than Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi could have anticipated. This delicate, melancholy story dramatizes the miseries of illegal Afghan workers who, having fled Taliban tyranny to live in Iran, must work (as laborers and in other low-end jobs) for even less wages than the usual pittance paid to citizens. The young Irani Lateef (Hossein Abedini), employed on a construction site, resents the arrival of a new Afghan boy who, proving too weak for heavy labor, is given Lateef's old cushy job of preparing and serving tea. But resentment turns to fascination, and then to shy love, when Lateef discovers that the tea caddy, Baran, has a secret. (The graceful order and decoration of the tea-prep area are giveaways.)
Majidi is a conservative, crowd-pleasing filmmaker (his 2000 ''Color of Paradise'' broke box office records for an Iranian film in the U.S.): Not for him are the stark, Samuel Beckett-like landscapes and themes of Abbas Kiarostami. There are moments in ''Baran'' as wholesomely heart-tugging as any involving Charlie Chaplin and a blind girl, but the film is saved from aren't-kids-cute sentimentality by a warmth that isn't faked and a stately sense of composition. In Lateef's desire to ease Baran's burdens, the filmmaker suggests an empathy that has only become more precious since this sad love story was made.