Karim (Reza Najie, "Children of Heaven," "Baran") supports his wife and three children, including the hearing-impaired eldest, Haniyeh (Shabnam Akhlaghi), by working at a rural ostrich farm. They are happy until Karim's luck begins to turn, Haniyeh's hearing aid falls into the sludgy pit of a water storage shed and then Karim is fired when a $2,000 ostrich escapes. The poor man motorbikes into Tehran to see if Haniyeh's hearing aid can be repaired and is mistaken for a taxi. He falls into his new job with gusto, but his wife, Narges, despairs if he will ever again hear "The Song of Sparrows."
Cowriter (with Mehran Kashani)/director Majid Majidi ("Children of Heaven," "Baran") is known for his films about children, but with "The Song of Sparrows" he focuses on a father whose children, particularly middle boy Hussein (Hamed Aghazi), prove great sidekicks. It appears the reason Haniyeh lost that precious hearing aid is because she was leaning over the water tank, where her brother and his friends were sloshing about with plans to become millionaires with the hundred thousand fish they would raise there. An exasperated Karim tells Hussein fish would never live in that sludge as they comb the muck, yet later, when the kids yell that he has hit the sweet spot with the television antenna up on the roof, good-natured Karim stays there, flirting with his wife in the courtyard below.
After losing his job and falling into his new one, Karim begins to change. He begins to haul old doors, window frames and various other pieces of junk from an inner city construction site (an important locale in "Baran") home and becomes aggressive with other drivers fighting for fares. Despite reports of ostrich eggs showing up in odd places around his home, he fails to take up the search again for his former employer's lost asset (an earlier interlude, when he attempts to find the bird disguised as one of them is both hilarious and indicative of the backbreaking work Karim is willing to endure). When his wife gives one of his doors away to a neighbor, Karim embarrasses her by coming to take it back. Only a young incense vendor seems able to break through to his basic kindness, but even with her, he attempts to break a 500 toman bill ('That's already change!' one angry driver barks) rather than part with too much of his money.
He is astonished when he hikes out to the water storage shed one day and discovers it has been thoroughly cleaned and filled with fresh water, dappled on its surface by the sun streaming through slats, a sparrow nesting in the corner. It is as if God has signalled a wake up call, but not before delivering a double irony. Just as Hussein and his friends are on the verge of realizing their fish dream, they are dealt a blow. Upon their return home, fate intervenes with Karim as well. Forced to recuperate from resulting injuries, Karim can stop and smell the roses. Old buddy Ramezan from the ostrich farm stops with a gift and news of the escapee.
Resembling an Iranian Judd Hirsch, Najie, who played the father in "Children of Heaven," is perfect as the put upon dad who nonetheless loves his family. Majidi's film is borderline comical and Najie's physicality often verges on slapstick but never crosses the line from naturalism. There will be no surprise that Majidi has gotten terrific performances from his younger actors, and Maryam Akbari gives Narges a shy assertiveness.
"The Song of Sparrows" takes place a half a world away in a land of ostrich farms and refrigerators delivered through the inner city on the back of a motorbike, but Karim's foibles, his worries and joys, will be recognizable to anyone and the timing of the film's U.S. release could not be more appropriate.
Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi has an eye for his country and its people with his artistic view of the every day characters that people his films. Here, in “The Song of Sparrows,” we have the foreman on an ostrich farm, Karim (Mohammad Amir Naji), who falls on hard times when he loses his job at the same time he needs to replace his deaf daughter’s expensive hearing aid. He journeys to Tehran and, in the process, is mistaken as a motorcycle taxi driver.
This is the story of one man’s metamorphosis from kind, loving husband/father and dedicated worker to a mean spirited, mean streaked man who lost the things he loved in life. It is also about the impact the big city can have on a poor country bumpkin as the pressure to make money overshadows the things he once valued. The change drives his wife and children to try to redeem those things that once made Kamir a beloved spouse and dad.
Majidi brings us a wonderful story, co-written with Mehran Kashani, with an imaginative and unique location – the ostrich ranch and its inhabitants at which Kamir worked are a character unto themselves. Veteran cinematographer Turaj Mansuri lends his keen eye to help enhance the richness of the story with visual acumen. It is a very satisfying, sobering and hopeful film that, in the end, that brings Karim full circle and back to his former self. I give it a B+.
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