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With: Reza Naji, Maryam Akbari, Kamran Dehgan, Hamed Aghazi, Shabnam Akhlaghi, Neshat Nazari
Written by: Majid Majidi, Mehran Kashani
Directed by: Majid Majidi
MPAA Rating: PG for brief mild language
Language: Persian/Farsi, with English subtitles
Running Time: 96
Date: 02/10/2008

The Song of Sparrows (2009)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Ostrich Egg Scramble

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I first discovered Iranian cinema in the late 1990s and have seen nearly 50 Iranian films since. I fell for the poetic simplicity of these stories, and the clever ways in which the filmmakers eluded their government's strict censorship. Of the three biggest directors, Abbas Kiarostami and Mohsen Makhmalbaf are the masters, and both seem to have semi-retired from active duty, though Makhmalbaf has been producing and doing behind-the-scenes work, while Kiarostami has been experimenting with short films, digital video and photography. The third director, Majid Majidi, is in another class; he's the country's official export, the one whose films are regularly submitted for Academy consideration. His Children of Heaven (1999) was the country's first and only nominee, and it was close to a masterpiece: beautiful and focused and patient. His follow-up film, The Color of Paradise (2000), went on to become arguably the most financially popular Iranian film in the United States, and is probably the worst I've ever seen. Baran (2001) was considerably more complex and layered, but The Willow Tree (2005) only received a sporadic U.S. release.

Now we have The Song of Sparrows, and it represents everything both good and bad about Majidi. It's sweet and has some sublime, poetic moments, but it's also awfully goopy and sentimental, achieved with hammer blows rather than brush strokes. Karim (Reza Naji) is an ostrich farmer who loses his job when one of the prized birds escapes. At the same time, his eldest daughter has lost her hearing aid down a sludgy well and now needs a new one. During a trip to Tehran, Karim discovers that he can make some pretty good money giving people rides on his motorbike, and he can also pick up some needed items for his home from a discard pile at a construction site. But while he's saving up for the hearing aid, his youngest son has concocted a scheme to clean up the old well and breed goldfish in it. Basically, everything that happens has a counter-payoff. If it appears to be something good, then something bad happens in response. But when misfortune strikes, good things are then learned from it. The various storylines and subplots and setups and payoffs seems like an overly complex way to get to Majidi's simple message, especially when we consider the streamlined Children of Heaven. And the unbridled heartstring tugging can get to be a bit much, but overall The Song of Sparrows has a nice, gritty, realistic feel, with quite a few individual moments (especially when Karim goes out to look for the missing ostrich) that strike just the right kind of tone.

Best Buy Co, Inc.