The Song Of Sparrows(2009)
- RatedPG /GenreDrama
Majid Majidi has a special gift.
Working with relatively low budgets, with a knack for working with children and unlikely leading men, he has almost single-handedly paved the way for Iranian cinema on the world stage.
One of Iran's undoubtedly important cultural ambassadors, the 50-year-old director has put together a sterling body of work since he first achieved widespread acclaim with the Oscar-nominated Children of Heaven in 1997, followed up with The Colour of Paradise (1999) and Baran (2001).
What makes his films, including his extraordinary last feature, The Willow Tree (2005), remarkable is their ability to probe into the human condition, and to peer into the morality behind choices, choices that could either damn or redeem a person.
The Willow Tree had a protagonist who, after regaining the sight he had lost in childhood, grows discontent with the life he had once thought heavenly. In The Song of Sparrows, the hero is Karim (Mohammad Amir Naji), a middle-aged family man and breadwinner who finds discontent after he loses his job on an ostrich farm after a bird escapes. Blamed and sacked for the loss, and unable to pay for repairs of his deaf daughter's damaged hearing aid-needed for her exams-Karim says to himself in despair: "It's not fair." Thus begins an amazing journey of chance and entrepreneurship.
Majidi's film deals with many themes, among them the pursuit of dreams, pride, family dynamics, and the attachment that Iranians, in a modernised society, increasingly have with material things.
In the beginning, Karim is hot-tempered and prideful. He chases his mischievous son and threatens a beating after learning of the latter's fanciful dream to breed fishes in the local well.
"We'll become millionaires," the boy declares. The father disagrees, mistaking the boy's entrepreneurial zeal-portrayed with a wide-eyed innocence and purity typical in Majidi films-for an indictment of his ability to provide for his family.
Throughout the course of the film, which contains much insight and charming little pockets of humour, Karim is faced with his own critical decisions and haunted by his conscience and dreams, embodied by visions of the escaped ostrich that is always, frustratingly, just out of reach.
The direction of this film is masterful. Painstaking effort is put in, without need for voice-over or superfluous dialogue, for characterisation, especially that of Karim.
The audience is aware when Karim starts to grow fond of the easy money of being an illegal taxi rider in Tehran, that he is making private decisions about the inadequacy of old, communal ways. New and improved beats old and reliable, it seems. Every man for himself, and his family, starts to become an unspoken mantra that is until circumstances conspire to remind him of the values he once held dear. The way his family reacts to adversity brings tears to his eyes.
Beautiful for its heart and imagery, The Song of Sparrows can be enjoyed on so many levels.
Its perspectives and quiet judgement of modern Iran alone provide a compelling reason to watch.
As a story about a family, it observes, with a twinkle in the eye, how a father learns to trust the next generation, with hope that kindness and common sense will prevail-and that dreams are worth pursuing, after all.
Rating: 4 out of 5
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
"Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in!" Michael Corleone, The Godfather, Part III (1990).