The Song of Sparrows

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BERLIN -- Stepping back from the bright colors and sentimentality of his signature films such as "The Children of Heaven" and "Baran," veteran helmer Majid Majidi reverts to a plain country setting in "The Song of Sparrows," a metaphor-driven tale of moral decline and redemption. The story, spiked with gentle humor, moves smoothly through the standard tropes of Iranian art house cinema. The film's market strength can be gauged accordingly.

After the intellectualized sidestep of "Weeping Willow," about a blind man who regains his sight and loses his soul, Majidi wisely heads back to stories about simpler folk with simpler problems that audiences can identify with. Here, the hero is the gruff, craggy-faced Karim (Reza Naji), a loving husband and father of three who is fired from his job on an ostrich farm when one of the birds scenically runs off into the hills.

There is little outright talk of God in this seventh film by the religious Majidi, yet everything seems to happen right on schedule to test Karim's faith. While he's on an errand in the city, a harried businessman jumps on his motorcycle, and Karim embarks on a new career as a taxi driver. The money is good but, as we know, the root of all evil, and as Karim's nest egg grows he starts to become contaminated by the distracted, dishonest city folk.

Observing the rich middle class and their homes that have everything, he is overcome with a burning desire to accumulate. What he brings home on his bike is literally junk, however, piled in the front yard like a giant trash heap. Unwilling to give away even the most useless items, he flies into a rage when he learns his wife has made a present of an old blue door, which he then carries home on his back across fields in pretty shots reminiscent of Samira Makhmalbaf's "Blackboards."

The turning point will arrive when Karim's world of useless material objects collapses on top of him.

In the film's most original scenes, Majidi ably demonstrates how even innocent children can turn into rabid capitalists, ready to smash everything around them to protect their investment. The film's running subplot involves Karim's little son, Hossein, and the dream he shares with his friends to stock a well with fish and become a millionaire when they multiply. When the fish are accidentally lost, the boys go wild with grief and frustration until the newly sage Karim reminds them that "the world is a dream and a lie," heralding a return to joy and sanity for all.

Low-key, realistic performances from a mostly nonpro cast keep the story running smoothly. His face visibly stressed-out and hardened from loneliness as he detaches himself from family and friends, Naji gives the film a strong center.

Although toned down from the strong hues of the director's earlier films, the cinematography by Tooraj Mansouri is always striking and elegant.


THE SONG OF SPARROWS
Majidi Production Co.
Credits:
Director-producer: Majid Majidi
Screenwriter: Majid Majidi, Mehran Kashani
Executive producer: Javad Norouzbeigi
Director of photography: Tooraj Mansouri
Production/costume designer: Asghar Nezhad-Imani
Music: Hossein Alizadeh
Editor: Hassan Hassandoost
Cast:
Reza Naji
Maryam Akbari
Kamran Dehghan
Hamed Aghazi
Shabnam Akhlaghi
Neshat Nazari

Running time -- 96 minutes
No MPAA rating
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