There’s something batshit insane about Majid Majidi’s The Song of Sparrows (my first experience of Majidi). Don’t get me wrong; I love the movie. It is one of the most down-to-earth movies I’ve ever seen, but it has a sort of manic energy you don’t see in American, or Indian or British, cinema. Personally, I hadn’t seen anything like this before. While both (the best of) Bollywood and Kurosawa have a manic energy, there’s nothing else quite like this.
Most of the magic in this movie comes from the lead actor Mohammed Amir Naji and the camerawork. The former plays a simple, homely man called Karim who has a job on an Ostrich farm, loves his wife non-platonically and has three kids who he loves and scolds. All of that, however, is beside the point. He is basically an oversized kid who understands the concepts of responsibility and sex. He also has hair that magically reflects his mental state. Except that it’s not magical: every time, you can think of a perfectly good naturalistic reason for the state of his hair. His eldest daughter is deaf, and uses a hearing aid, which gets lost in a sludge-infested water storage that has been blocked for a long time when she is helping her brother (the middle kid) clean it up, so that he and his friends can start a goldfish-farm in it. He is an attractive man whose eyes are a match for those of the master of eye-expression – Toshiro Mifune – himself with a mysteriously endearing bulbous hooked nose. The number of shots of his face probably outnumbers all the other shots in the movie (I watched this movie last night, so you can make of this sentence what I will: that’s what stays on in my memory).
The camerawork: this is one of those rare movies (only other I can remember is Three Colours: Blue) where you don’t feel the weight of the camera in the moments when you are looking at the camerawork. It is so simple – so natural, even – that… it looks it. I don’t know enough about movies and camerawork to be able to say any more. There is, in general, an alteration between close shots and beautiful long shots, used often to trick us and manipulate our feelings, but in a way that they aren’t manipulated to non-existence. Watch out, especially, for his last-ditch effort for finding the lost Ostrich.
Wait right here: I said “Most of the magic in this movie comes from the lead actor Mohammed Amir Naji and the camerawork.” This, the fact that they overshadow the story, is certainly the biggest compliment I’ve given Majidi and Naji. There’s an abandoned, blocked water storage outside his house, which is the one his daughter loses her hearing aid in. He, his son and his son’s friends find it, but it doesn’t work anymore. He finds out he has to go to the city, Tehran, to get it repaired or replaced. He goes to work and asks the supervisor – called Ramezan – for an advance on his salary and is refused. He lets an Ostrich escape, and goes around on his motorbike looking for it. He can’t find it, and is fired. He goes to the city, finds out he needs to either wait for four or five months (the girl’s exams are the next month) or buy it on the open market for an astronomical price. He’s sitting on the curb, on his motorbike, when he unwittingly becomes a bike-cab-driver. This is just the set-up. The really magical part of the story are the complications – Ramezan’s leaving for a pilgrimage, the increasing hedonism, his son getting the storage clean, the accident that happens due to his jealousy that makes him an invalid, the visit to the city after the kids buy the goldfish – and the end. I would love to reveal one part of the end, but since enjoyment of movie is more important than enjoyment of review, I won’t.
I should put in a word for the community in which the movie is set. It is the close-knit type in which everyone helps every one. I didn’t make it sound very charming, but I assure you it very much is.
And here’s the best part: I didn’t enjoy this nearly as much as I could have. I watched it on the Indian channel UTV World Movies which, despite being a blessing for people like me seeking exposure to undubbed world cinema, has a constant static in the background, a fact which makes every movie devoid of silence (further commendment for the channel: I watched it from beginning to end without any breaks).