“The world is a lie, the world is a dream.” This is the song of redemption for Mr. Karim, the main character in Majid Majidi's movie, The Song of Sparrows. The film is an Iranian fable about the mystery of nature and the individual's place amongst its beauties. Secretly coveting to be unique, strong and proud as an ostrich, Karim comes to appreciate the grace of the rather common, unspectacular sparrow, which is the metaphor for the ordinary, unsophisticated life.
A simple, poor man, Karim (Reza Naji) is an ostrich wrangler, married to Narges (Maryam Akbari), father of two daughters and a son. A series of unfortunate events such as his older daughter, dropping her hearing aid in the very pond his son, Hussein is counting on for making him a millionaire and the escape of an ostrich which costs Karim his job, lead him to the streets of Tehran. The city is alluring with fancy buildings, tempting ripe fruit and plenty of free objects that Karim brings back home to redecorate his house. While trying to replace his daughter's hearing aid, he is mistaken for a taxi driver and thus, his motorcycle becomes his main source of revenue. Somehow, Karim swaps his good nature for a money-driven lust to accumulate and a desperate unwillingness to share with the very people from his extended family. Back in the village, people help one another and dispense their own with the rest of the community. In Tehran, people are mean, cunning, treacherous, rude, and uncompassionate to the needs of those around them.
The more Karim accumulates, the more distressed he becomes. He can't sleep anymore, he is unaware of his children's needs and dreams, starts ignoring his wife and begins to lose his empathy. The junk pile in his yard is huge and one day, while climbing it, life grabs Karim by the throat and teaches him a lesson. Bedridden, he is forced to pay more attention to the little things around him. His cousin and neighbours are helpful and considerate, the wife and children are more loving, and Karim comes to see things for what they are. Hussein has taken a job to follow his dream of filling the pond with fish and becoming a millionaire. His daughters tend to his wounds and spend their free time drawing on his cast. Little by little, his life is being rebuilt with tiny gestures and he rediscovers the beauty of nature and his place within its vastness. Just like the runaway ostrich returns home, Karim finds his way back into his family and his own heart. Counting his blessings, he rediscovers the beauty in the ordinary song of the sparrows which might not own the grace of ostriches, yet there is fulfilment and bliss in their common nature.
As an European, one might get struck by the differences in family dynamics or cultural perspectives, yet there is such beauty in their little lives and such serenity that you cannot help being moved by the sensitivity of Majidi's movie. Mothers and women for that matter might not stand out, still they are the driving force behind the men and their children's prosperity. The Song of Sparrows is a touching pleading for the glory of pastoral life without condemning modernism or urban life, since the director's approach is rather humorous and moving. It is about striving to find our place within the world, admiring the dancing of the ostriches from a safe distance, embracing our own happiness. The movie is very visual and charismatic and there are some excellent moments that remain imprinted on our retinas: Karim walking the black fields, a battered, blue door on his back and his own impersonation of an ostrich. Yet, all the wealth in the world leaves your pockets empty and sorrowful unless it can fill your bare heart with purposefulness.