Cities have a peculiar capacity to make one feel alone in the midst of a crowd. Here the pressure for existence is simply overwhelming for the neighbours to notice each other. Individual faces are not remembered, for all men and women are the sheep of “Modern Times” in myriad forms. Saying this does not mean glorifying the life in the villages, especially in times of agrarian crisis. Cities definitely act as the safety valves for existence in some sense. But how often do we recognize the fact that only plants need not have the right to feel secure with a root?
A city always has the uncanny knack of finding space for one more person in a saturated space. It may even give the individual a minimum assurance of subsistence; but is existence living? The individual does not take very long to inherit the city’s overall morality and dissolve in the space of plenty. Cities are unavoidable pillars of human progress. True, but is a progress soulful when the human essence is removed. A society that will value human individuality and equality will definitely emerge. Till then there is a requirement to find and fight for a space that will offer scope for meaningful existence.
The famous Lacanian-Marxist philosopher, Slavoj Zizek once famously remarked, “The role of philosophy is not to answer questions but to raise questions that will make the society think”. The same idea can definitely be extrapolated to art. If that can be done, then Majid Majidi’s “The Song of Sparrows”(Persian) is art in its purest form. It raises the question of what constitutes a happy meaningful life and points out the dichotomy that both the urban and rural landscapes offer.
Karim (Reza Naji) is a senior supervisor in an ostrich farm in a village just beyond the outskirts of Tehran. He is the head of a family of five, which includes his wife and three children. The family though does not suffer poverty in the strictest sense is not very well off either. Karim infact finds it very difficult to mobilise resources to replace his hearing impaired eldest daughter’s faulty hearing aid. One day, one of the ostriches runs away from the farm and Karim is removed from his job for carelessness. Karim goes to the city next day in his motorbike to repair the hearing aid of his daughter and accidentally ends becoming a taxi rider(In Iran motorbikes are used as taxis too). The city and the new job give him money that was not possible to earn in his village. But the city also slowly remoulds him from what he was earlier in his moral outlook. This begins to distance him from his family though whatever he does, he does it for the benefit of his family. Then an accident makes him re-question priorities in his life and finally the film ends with Karim becoming happier than what he was.
This film is a lesson on simple film making of a complex story. It is a refreshing revelation in the way it handles complex human emotions and behaviour. Majid Majidi, whose “Children of Heaven” was one of the path breaking films of the 90’s has even grown to monstrous proportions as a director with this film. Each scene has a strong undercurrent flowing through it and it is a masterpiece of multi-layered film direction. Cinematography of the film does not in anyway compromise the intense realistic filming style of Majidi. At the same time, it captures the scenes of the rural terrain in an awe striking manner. Majidi curiously has chosen more background music than what we usually we get in his films and the strictly Persian music blends beautifully with the visuals. There should be a special mention of Reza Naji’s acting. Rarely have I seen more realistic and involved acting. The film does have some minuscule negatives; the final minutes could have been clearer. But that is just a drop of bad flavour in an ocean of goodness.
A socially responsible art can only be a wholesome art and Majidi has taken such an artistic film making school to its zenith.