Majid Majidi remains one of the more accessible Iranian filmmakers for American audiences. His films are paced, shot, and edited like Western features, unlike those of most of his contemporaries. And after seeing his excellent The Color of Paradise (about a blind child and his intolerant father) and Children of Heaven (about a boy who enters a footrace in order to win his sister a pair of shoes), I was excited about The Song of Sparrows. Majidi might just be Iran's answer to Vittorio de Sica: a master at capturing the simple hopes and needs of the working class.
This time out, the hero is a middle-aged ostrich farmer(!) named Karim (Reza Najie, a fine actor who looks like the Iranian Harry Dean Stanton). After he loses his job, and in an attempt to raise money to replace his deaf teenage daughter's hearing aid, Karim gets work as a motorcycle taxi driver in Tehran.
The story moves on, but the themes got muddled for this reviewer. I suspect that the film covers aspects of Iranian life and Islam that just went over my head. Majidi seems to have filled his story with symbols, but what do they mean? What does the lost ostrich represent? Is Karim's story the saga of a man whose religious faith is tested by his desire for material wealth? I'm not sure, especially as the third act pumps in a few new characters and a new subplot.
The Song of Sparrows isn't exactly confusing - in fact, the film may just be a slice of life about the daily triumphs and tribulations of a simple family, thus defying analysis - but it's not quite as affecting as Majidi's earlier efforts. Still, there are a lot of great images in the film and some lovely moments.