The Song of Sparrows

Sweet and gentle comedy, and a great antidote to the image of Iran we are normally presented.

Released in 2008, certified UK-Not Yet Rated. Reviewed on 20 Jun 2008 by Drew Tavendale
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Iranian films don't wash up often on these shores, the closest to it that I can remember in recent times being the less than stellar Persepolis, though that owed more to France than Iran. So it's nice to see one, and particularly when it's depicting Iran in a way free from any agenda.

Coverage of Iran from Fox News and the like (and, alas, even the BBC, who should know better) would suggest to we Westerners that Iran is full of hateful people who spend all day developing nasty nuclear weapons with which to smite the infidels. The Song of Sparrows (Avaze gonjeshk-ha) is, I suspect, much closer to the truth, portraying Iran as an industrial and agricultural country, and indeed the life depicted in the film could just as easily be in other Middle-Eastern countries, Latin America or South-East Asia.

Reza Najie stars as ostrich-farm worker Kazim, a hard-working family man struggling to make ends meet. When Kazim's eldest daughter loses her hearing aid into a sludge-filled water storage, he must find the money to repair or replace it quickly as her school exams are only a short time away. Unfortunately this worry affects his concentration at work, and one of his very valuable charges on the ostrich farm escapes, leading to his employers letting him go just as he needs more money. Visiting nearby Tehran the next day to consult a doctor about his daughter's hearing aid, he inadvertently becomes one of the city's fleet of motorcycle taxi/couriers, and realises that this could be the job for him.

Kazim is at first taken aback by the fast-paced and impersonal nature of big city life, so different from his friendly rural community, but he is soon at home in the metropolis, carrying passengers and goods back and forth. He also takes advantage of the multitude of scrap and unwanted goods he comes across, and has soon hoarded a huge pile o' stuff. Unfortunately, the more time that he spends in the city, the more money that he makes and the more stuff that he hoards, the more distant he becomes from his true nature, and he must find himself again.

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Reza Najie has already won the Silver Bear award at this year's Berlin Film Festival for his portrayal of Kazim, and I have to say it is thoroughly deserved. The whole film is seen from Kazim's perspective and Najie is entirely capable of carrying it. He is almost instantly likeable, as well as being funny, and Kazim's dilemmas and temptations are very believably played. He is also possessed of a wonderfully expressive face, aiding him in portraying both the comedy and the pathos of his character.

The Song of Sparrows is just thoroughly nice. I'm aware that describing a film as nice can be seen as damning it with faint praise, or possibly just damning it, but sometimes it is just... well, nice... to see a film that is nice (please don't allow my overuse of the word 'nice' to put you off). It's a morality tale, but not a preachy one, and certainly enough to make you think what you would do in the same situations. This is particularly the case with Kazim's increasing selfishness - it is not as simple as a man wanting to keep things for himself, but rather believing that it is for the good of his family.

The central morality tale is dressed in a gentle comedy that will probably make you smile more often than laugh, but will leave you feeling happy and pleased you took the time to watch it. It is certainly one of the more uplifting experiences on offer at this year's Edinburgh International Film Festival, and well worth checking out

This film garners a score of 4 out of a possible 5 nodules of filmy goodness.

Majid Majidi
Cast list:
Reza Najie (Kazim)
Maryam Akbari (Narges)