English Title: Song of Sparrows
Original Title: Avaze Gonjeshk-ha
Country of Origin: Iran
Studio: Majid Majidi Film Production Company
Director: Majid Majidi
Producer(s): Majid Majidi, Javad Noruzbegi
Screenplay: Mehran Kashani, Majid Majidi
Cinematographer: Turaj Mansuri
Editor: Hassan Hassandoost
Runtime: 96 minutes
Starring/Cast: Mohammad Amir Naji, Reza Naji, Hossein Aghazi, Maryam Akbari, Kamran Dehghan
Karim is a good and simple man working in a farm with ostriches somewhere in the countryside of Iran. Because of his mistake one of the ostriches escapes and the company fires him. On a trip to Tehran he finds by coincidence, work as an illegal automobilist/driver. Although he found work again Karim’s wife and daughters seem quite displeased, for his character seems to be changing. Karim is no longer the kind and virtuous man he used to be when working on the farm. Gradually the father’s corruption starts affecting the rest of the family as well. When Hussein’s plan to become a millionaire fails, Karim understands their error and a return to his previous self is premeditated.
From its symbolic title, the song of the weak, small birds to the beautiful cinematography, Majid Majidi’s Song of Sparrows carefully portrays the fragile existence of the working class and the unspoiled world of the Iranian countryside. Karim is yet another Antonio Ricci from Ladri di biciclette/Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948) in the history of Iranian cinema. After losing his work he does wrong, just like Antonio who desperately wants to replace his stolen bicycle and steals someone else’s. Majidi’s film is no doubt neo-realist, like so many Iranian films; its main difference from the narrative of Bicycle Thieves leans on the contrast between urban and pastoral life. For Majidi there are still reserves of morality and innocence in the almost mythical, for Iranian cinema in deep Iran. We should not forget that the transfer of Iranian villagers to the urban centres was not a smooth one, both culturally and practically. Majidi talks in his film about situations that the average Iranian has either experienced or heard of. The change in Karim’s character, his moral decadence, if we can use such an extreme term, comes gradually. Majidi engineers a crescendo where the protagonist is exposed through his new work to the circumstances that will change him, the ugly face of the city. The contrast, supported by both narrative and cinematography, between Tehran and the Iranian countryside is so great that it indirectly cites religious notions of hell/paradise. On the one hand we are being offered a delightful, almost romanticized image of a little village and on the other a crowded, grey-brown Tehran. Following the neo-realist dogma Majidi uses amateur actors, and this increases the film’s fidelity and its claim of a real life quality. Majidi’s actors are the real, authentic working-class heroes leaving their village for the corrupting environment of Tehran.
Song of Sparrows is also quite different from the emotional and sugary sweet films that made him famous, inside and outside Iran, like Children of Heaven (1997). Apart from its ending that leaves us with some hope for Karim and his family, the film-maker still retains his humanitarian stand in the way he treats his protagonists but there is a decisive shift towards a less pleasant social agenda. Not that his other films were not occupied with the social but with Song of Sparrows it seems as if his career is passing towards maturity with darker and more ‘adult’ subjects. For a director that was raised in a middle-class family in Tehran his portrayal of his own city but from a working-class perspective is indeed very revealing of his intentions and political position.