The Song of Sparrows

"Extraordinary"

The Song of Sparrows Review


A treat in every sense of the word, Majid Majidi's The Song of Sparrows starts in galloping rural comedy and meanders through urban neo-realism before winding itself up with a portrait of family life as resonant as just about anything that's been seen on screen in recent years. Granted -- to paraphrase an indie film executive from the 1990s -- there's just about nothing in the world (huge ad campaign, glowing reviews) that will convince American audiences to go see an Iranian film, no matter that the director's 1997 work The Children of Heaven was nominated for a foreign film Oscar. But if filmgoers decide for once to break that stereotype and seek out Majidi's sumptuous parable, they'll find a real piece of beauty.

What's most refreshing about Majidi's film is how it mines the neo-realist tradition for its loose approach to storytelling while adamantly rejecting the usual leaning toward ragged stylistics and downbeat narratives. While the screenplay (which Majidi co-wrote with Mehran Kashani) certainly doesn't skimp on the harsher realities of life (debt, family tensions), there doesn't seem to be much of a drive here to force bleakness down the audience's throat. It also seems strange to refer to a film as deliriously and sumptuously photographed (by cinematographer Tooraj Mansouri) as this as somehow neo-realist. Rosselini would never have created such a gorgeous Technicolor ode to the Italian countryside, for instance; there also wouldn't have been any ostriches.

Majidi shows his comedic colors early on, with an opening scene in which the protagonist, Karim (the great Reza Naji), has the worst day ever at his job at the ostrich farm. One of his charges escapes, barreling across sweeping green fields and gently rolling hills, while Karim ineffectually gives chase. After getting fired, Karim starts to get desperate, what with having a family to feed and a new hearing aid to buy his daughter. A trip to Tehran proves fortunate, though, when a stranger hops onto the back of Karim's pokey motorcycle and tells him to drive, thinking he's one of many such cabbies thronging the metropolis' teeming streets.

While normally this sort of thing would be just an annoyance to Karim, a fantastically grumpy soul who spends most of the film in a frowning pout, at the moment it happens he's just desperate enough to take the work. His decision proves smart, as there is apparently no end of work in Tehran for a man with a working motorcycle who's willing to drive wherever he needs to. Karim's dashing around the city with strangers on his back allows Majidi to bring his film from the gorgeous spectacle of the tree-studded and wide-sky countryside around Karim's remote home into the dusty brown and brightly sunny chaos of Tehran, whose bustling vitality is captured in some impressive wide-angle compositions.

The Song of Sparrows doesn't need much of a story to get by, which is a good thing as Majidi and Kashani haven't provided much of one. They make do with the basic driving impulse behind Karim's impetuous entrepreneurship and also the continual and quite effective low comedy resulting from the clashes between his sour worldview and the world itself, particularly his long-suffering family who endure his near-constant harangues with benevolent forbearance. No matter how deep his rage, he's more angry clown than actual threat. It's this same deeply humane perspective -- helped along by its utterly natural and affectless cast -- that makes The Song of Sparrows the greatly satisfying parable of happenstance that it is.

Aka Avaze gonjeshk-ha.

Try an ACME product to stop him.



The Song of Sparrows

Facts and Figures

Run time: 96 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 1st October 2008

Box Office Worldwide: $115.6 thousand

Distributed by: Regent Releasing

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 98%
Fresh: 40 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 8.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer: , Javad Norouzbeigi

Starring: Mohammad Amir Naji as Karim, Hamid Aghazi as Hussein

Also starring:

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