Wednesday, April 1, 2009

THE SONG OF SPARROWS: How you gonna keep 'em down on the (ostrich) farm....

....after they've seen Tehran? Majid Majidi's newest film brought a variation of that old song to TrustMovies' mind, along with a load of other ideas. After his popular Children of Heaven, The Color of Paradise and Baran, the Iranian filmmaker (shown above) offers another winner: a tale that tracks the journey beginning on that ostrich farm -- spanning time, place and growth -- of a paterfamilias trying to meet his obligations to family and self. The allure of the big city plays its games with our hero, as everything from theft to temptation and unexpected generosity present themselves for his delectation.

Majidi has always helped us see the beauty in the natural world, and this film is no exception. His use of space, composition and color, as the camera catches everything from landscape to plant life and people -- not to mention those ostriches -- is exemplary. He entices us without trying too hard. In the "big city," where dad Karim, played by the luminously unattractive (this is a compliment) Reza Naji, finds good money but lots of of stress, the film hits its mark, too. The constant motion, the various business being transacted and the people handling it, makes a bracing contrast to family life in the countryside. Yet, interestingly enough, the city comes off as more necessary than negative. Life there -- how various kinds of works gets done -- is offered in quick sketches but with such attention to detail that it soon becomes clear that Majidi is showing, not judging.

Mr. Naji (at right) won Best Actor at last year last year's Berlinale and was at the time a 65-year-old fellow playing a 40-year-old character, with all the physicality and energy necessary for the role. Plus, his pug-ugly face, registering so much so deeply, is a wonder to behold. The other roles are cast and acted with proper believability, particularly Maryam Akbari, as Reza's wife Narges. His children (Hamed Aghazi, shown below, plays his son and Shamnam Akhlaghi his hearing-impaired daughter), along with their needs and desires, are lovingly rendered. One of the perhaps unintended consequences for westerners viewing The Song of Sparrows will be a renewed ability to look at Iran as something more than a threat.

I admit Majidi's movies sometimes tread a thin line where sentimentality is concerned. His subjects (family crises, poverty -- or at least the threat of it) are prime fodder for feel-good sentiment. Yet this writer/director consistently allows character to trump incident in terms of believability, and this goes quite a distance toward tear-jerk prevention. Instead, you are likely to find yourself re-examining the eternal verities, which, thanks to the skills of the movie-maker, will seem not only new and fresh but maybe a little exotic.

The Song of Sparrows opens in New York at Lincoln Plaza Cinema on Friday, April 3, followed by a national roll-out.

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