Monday, February 22, 2010


The Song remains the same

By Edward Copeland
Living in the United States, we're destined to get a skewed view of any other country's film output. You have to assume that primarily the best of their product and the work of their most prestigious filmmakers are more likely to land on our shores and they probably produce mediocre and awful movies just the way we do here. However, I have to say that I don't think I have ever seen a bad Iranian film. Certainly, the quality of the films vary in degrees and The Song of Sparrows falls toward the lower end of the spectrum, but it's another example of my experience that watching an Iranian film always ends up being worthwhile.

The Song of Sparrows was co-written and directed by Majid Majidi, who also made the great films Children of Heaven, Baran and The Color of Paradise. It isn't as strong as those previous works, but it plays on a lighter level thanks to a delightful lead performance by Reza Najie.

Najie plays Karim, an ostrich rancher, whose life takes many unexpected turns when his daughter's hearing aid falls into a water storage tank, rendering it useless. Also, an ostrich escapes, causing him to lose his job. While it may not be apparent to all viewers, The Song of Sparrows actually tells a spiritual Islamic fable. As Karim heads to Tehran and stumbles accidentally into odd jobs that he hopes will fund a new hearing aid for his daughter, he also faces the temptations of the modern world.

Still, the film is not remotely preachy and it almost plays like a light comedy. I didn't even recognize its spiritual underpinnings until the story got to the third act and even then it doesn't beat you over the head with them. The key to tying all the disparate elements together (the differing tones, the fable elements, the spirituality) is Najie, a man gifted with a wonderfully expressive face.

As the country of Iran goes through its problems with anti-government protesters being beaten and killed in the streets while its theocratic bullies at the top use their militaristic thugs to keep themselves in power, it's truly an amazing thing that the country can produce such great films and that the rest of the world can see them. When we see scenes of a bustling Tehran, it doesn't seem as if it's propaganda.

With filmmaking this good coming out of there, protesters putting their lives on the line for a principle and scenes of daily life as this film shows, perhaps there is hope that the evil that strangles the country will be toppled. Let's hope it is soon.

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