May 30, 2009

REVIEW: The Song of Sparrows (A)

(The Song of Sparrows opens this weekend at the Landmark Edina Cinema)

Sometimes I watch movies like
The Song of Sparrows and shake my head (out of a sense of righteous global-mindedness, of course). There couldn't be more obstacles in its way in catching on with American audiences: it has subtitles, it's one of "those artsy foreign films", and - hide the women and children - it's from Iran. I get it, we don't want to feel anything or think about anything when we go to movies, and in the midst of this recession we're desperately looking to escape as much as possible. To Las Vegas (The Hangover), to prehistoric times (Land of the Lost), or even to outer space (Star Trek).

But is it really true that people are looking to take nothing from the movies they see? Really? Nothing but a few laughs to distract us from reality? Just seems like a strange way to spend our money; it's not like there's a shortage of free entertainment these days. My point is, movies like
The Song of Sparrows, which truly is accessible, charming, and relevant to people from all countries (especially the U.S.), are too often tossed aside or overlooked because people fear they're weird, boring, overlong, serious, tragic, or something worse. Well here's a surprise: this movie is none of those things, and its comedy is sure to be both more original and more humanistic than repetitive scenes of Will Ferrell fleeing dinosaurs (though truthfully, he'll probably make that pretty funny).

From celebrated Iranian director Majid Majidi (Children of Heaven), The Song of Sparrows is at its heart a parable about capitalism and the conditioned human tendency to perpetually want more than what you have at any given time, even if you don't know why (see: greed). It's an Aesop's Fable brought to life, and like Aesop, Majidi (who also co-wrote the film) knows how to effectively draw us into the lives of his archetypal characters. Here, it's Karim, a devoted husband, father and ostrich farmer living in a modest rambler on the dusty outskirts of Tehran. His family doesn't live lavishly, but Karim is a talented handyman and provides for his wife and children what others in the community may not have, such as fuzzy television reception and massive ostrich egg omelets.Although Karim is not inundated by advertising in his daily life and the local culture doesn't appear to put much value in material possessions, when hard luck takes Karim's steady job from him he gets an idea in his head that there must be more lucrative - not just steady, but lucrative - opportunities awaiting him. Maybe he's influenced by his son, who along with his young friends want to start a goldfish farming business, but regardless of the reason, when Karim eventually does get a taste of easy money in Tehran, it becomes an almost overpowering elixir. He's discovered that you can make a lot of money without necessarily toiling away in the fields all day. More specifically, he's discovered entrepreneurship, and his outlook on life will never be the same.

If it still sounds like The Song of Sparrows actually is "weird, boring, overlong, serious, tragic, or something worse", I guess I suggest you check out the trailer below, though even that doesn't fully illustrate the outstanding performance by Mohammed Amir Naji, or the striking cinematography by Turaj Mansuri, or the dry comedy lingering behind so many scenes. The movie is simultaneously operating on multiple layers and, under the sure hand of Majidi, successfully avoids farce even when some twists in the story feel contrived. Just when you want to casually dismiss another emotional outburst or bizarre occurrence as a you've-gotta-be-kidding-me gag, you realize that, well, it's true - everybody has some amusing experiences like that.

And really, isn't that how you learn lessons in life? About taking risks, appreciating what you have, getting through difficult times, raising a family, and everything else? Of course, and like one of those humorous learning experiences you had years ago and still share with friends and family, you may find The Song of Sparrows offers similar anecdotes that you aren't likely to forget.

Writing - 9
Acting - 10
Production - 10
Emotional Impact - 9
Music - 4

Social Significance - 5
Total: 47/50= 94% = A


  1. There are many high quality films from Iran or another middle east countries, but unfortunately they lack of promotion just like the Hollywood films. I like how they make the films deeper and meaningful.

  2. Thanks for commenting, turisuna. I'm sure there are a lot of high quality films from the region, but it's a matter of making them accessible - not just physically, but psychologically - for American audiences (if we can be considered a driving force in the global film market).

    Which is exactly why I think The Song of Sparrows could have done well here. As I mentioned, its themes are really universal and it avoids the hot button issues like war and religion and politics.

    But at the same time, I suppose, that's why Americans avoid them. We're only interested in seeing a movie where those people "over there" are comfortingly shown as evil, or whatever makes us feel better in our ignorance.


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