Majidi's 'Song Of Sparrows': Ambition On The Wing

Reza Naji i

Hands Off: Karim (Reza Naji) loses sight of his priorities when his bike-taxi service begins to boom. Naji was the only professional actor cast in Majid Majidi's film. Regent Releasing hide caption

itoggle caption Regent Releasing
Reza Naji

Hands Off: Karim (Reza Naji) loses sight of his priorities when his bike-taxi service begins to boom. Naji was the only professional actor cast in Majid Majidi's film.

Regent Releasing

The Song of Sparrows

  • Director: Majid Majidi
  • Genre: Iranian neorealism
  • Running Time: 96 minutes

Not rated: a few mildly violent incidents

Hamed Aghazi i

Missed Venture: Karim's son Hossein (Hamed Aghazi) launches his own business — to unhappy results. Regent Releasing hide caption

itoggle caption Regent Releasing
Hamed Aghazi

Missed Venture: Karim's son Hossein (Hamed Aghazi) launches his own business — to unhappy results.

Regent Releasing

A parable of urban corruption and pastoral rehabilitation, The Song of Sparrows is weakened by its simplistic moral. Yet simplicity also turns out to be one of the virtues of this Iranian charmer, which boasts striking images, gentle humor and an elegant score.

Director Majid Majidi's film begins in a dusty, open landscape familiar from other Iranian movies. But this time it's populated by foreign creatures: a flock of ostriches, which are being farmed for their eggs. Grizzled Karim (Reza Naji) is an ostrich handler who seems to be good at his job. Then one of the huge birds makes a successful escape, and Karim takes the fall.

Karim has a wife and three children, the oldest of whom is a teenage daughter who needs a new hearing aid. On a motorbike trip to Tehran to inquire into getting a new one, Karim gets mistaken for a two-wheeled taxi driver. He protests, but the busy urbanites are far too involved with their cell phones to listen. And after Karim learns what they'll pay for a short buzz across town, he decides he's found his new vocation.

When not ferrying people or precariously balanced merchandise, Karim accumulates castoff junk that might have value in the countryside. As he collects more money and more stuff, he becomes progressively less generous to his friends and neighbors. A turning point comes when Karim learns that his wife has given away a battered blue door; angrily, he goes to reclaim it and carries the door home on his back, its color set off by the tan fields.

Separate mishaps sideline Karim and undermine his young son Hossein, who thinks he can become a millionaire by breeding goldfish. (Buying goldfish is one of the traditions of the Iranian new year.) Karim's junk business literally collapses, while Hossein and his pals accidently lose their first crop of fish. While cheering up the boys, Karim realizes that his own dream of wealth was also misguided.

Majidi is the only Iranian director ever to have a film nominated for an Academy Award, and his best-known movies have more mainstream appeal than the work of such artier Iranians as Abbas Kiarostami. Majidi's projects usually focus on children, with elementary but still moving stories. (The Oscar-nominated Children of Heaven was about a young brother and sister who must share the same pair of shoes.)

The Song of Sparrows is more involved, though, and its conclusion less persuasive. The big city may be as malevolent as Majidi suggests, but watching Karim zig-zag through traffic provides some of the movie's most entertaining moments. Visually, the only thing that can compete is the wild dancing of the ostriches — and one scene in which Karim, hoping to apprehend the runaway, poses as an ostrich himself.

Majidi shows his affinity for Hollywood production values with a few aerial shots, something that's unlikely to be emulated by his more austere peers. Yet The Song of Sparrows is, in many ways, an exemplary Iranian film. It carefully observes everyday life, features traditional music — by the great Hossein Alizadeh — and uses nonprofessional actors.

Among the latter, special credit must go to the ostriches, who sometimes appear more like horses than birds. It probably wasn't his intent, but Majidi has made the first Iranian Ostrich Western.

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