The Song of Sparrows (2009)
Director: Majid Majidi
Cast: Mohammad Amir Naji, Maryam Akbari, Kamran Dehghan
Plot: When an ostrich-rancher focuses on replacing his daughter's hearing aid, which breaks right before crucial exams.
Awards: Won Silver Berlin Bear - Best Actor. Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlin Film Festival).
Rating: PG for brief mild language.
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: MILD)
A Golden Bear nominee of the Berlin International Film Festival, The Song of Sparrows is Majid Majidi’s first entry into a film festival of such prestige. The Iranian director of critically-acclaimed films such as The Children of Heaven (1997) and The Color of Paradise (1999) directs another praiseworthy picture, though I regard this as a less than stellar effort as compared to his best works.
Majidi directs Mohammed Amir Naji to a Best Actor win and deservedly so because his portrayal of the lead character, Karim, is remarkably and convincingly natural. He plays the father of a relatively poor family who loses his job as a worker in an ostrich farm. He has a deaf daughter whose hearing aid is damaged after she dropped it in a water storage tank. Struggling to make ends meet as well as promising her daughter a new hearing aid to help her to cope with the coming exams, Karim goes out into the city to find temporary jobs in his old but dependable motorcycle.
The Song of Sparrows centers on Karim and uses him as a lens to reveal the two different ways of life inherent in Iran’s increasingly urbanized setting – the tight-knitted rural community and the fragmented urban society. In the latter, the pace is fast and at times unsettling. Everyone is in a rush and this forces Karim to adopt a more pragmatic approach to earn a living – offering rides to anyone to anywhere in the city and allow them to pay him any amount they like.
Occasionally, he does the odd job of delivering goods. In one instance, he loses his way and is forced to bring home a small refrigerator for the night. This ‘expensive foreign object’ causes excitement in the household because they have never seen anything like it before. Majidi, once again, highlights the urbanization, or more precisely, the dawn of urbanization which may change the rural way of life within the next decade or so in Iran.
The conservative and overly protective Karim suffers a serious injury which renders him immobile for quite some time. This frees his children, especially his driven son to chase his own dreams – to rear fishes in the water storage tank and sell them to become a millionaire. Reality says that his dream is improbable because the construct of Iran’s society is such that it is impossibly difficult to succeed with a low-class background.
In a brilliant metaphor which describes the harshness of this reality, Majidi directs a scene which shows Karim’s son and his friends frantically carrying a heavily leaking barrel containing many live fishes to safety only to trip and fall and see their ‘dream’ spill away onto the pavement.
The Song of Sparrows features a beautiful score by Hossien Alizadeh, and some impressive cinematography juxtaposing the quiet isolation of rural life and the hustle and bustle of urbanity. It is at times heartwarming, but for a Majidi film, it slightly lacks in emotion and the climax is not as powerful as intended. Nevertheless, The Song of Sparrows is a decent showcase of the richness of Iranian cinema.
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