SONG OF SPARROWS from 2008 is yet another brilliant and moving film from Iran. Another in a long line of examples of what has become a somewhat surprising constant over the last twenty years: Iran produces excellent movies. If you liked last year’s Academy Award winning Best Foreign Language film A SEPARATION, then you’ve already gotten a taste of it. For whatever reason, Iranian films bring something to the big screen that is rarely seen in filmmaking from any country today. Seemingly unconcerned with reproducing or competing with big budget Hollywood blockbusters, instead Iranian movies tend to be simple, sincere and authentic portraits of humanity with a realness we’ve not seen in cinema since post-World War II Italian films such as those by Roberto Rossalinni. Whether or not Iranian filmmakers are deliberately attempting to start their own version of ‘Neorealism’ or are even aware of the reverred style is not known for sure — it certainly wouldn’t be something they could admit freely under the tightly controlled and watchful eyes of the Islamic Republic’s Minister of Culture — as all Western art and entertainment including film and music is banned in modern day Iran. I myself had the honor of meeting with the Minister of Culture in his office in Tehran in 2008 to discuss a possible musical collaboration with famed Taar recording artist Hussein Alizadeh, and by the end of the meeting felt sadly dissappointed and quite sure that none such collaboration would be permitted under the current laws simply because I am a Western musical artist….
Regardless of restrictions such as these every year Iran still manages to create and release a variety of intelligent engrossing and moving films that usually always make the Short Lists of all major film critics from just about every country. Even the United States. In fact definitely the United States. Hollywood, for lack of interest in politics, or oil, is smack dab in the middle of a regular old fashioned love affair with contemporay Iranian filmmaking. As it should be. I’ve yet to see one movie made in Iran over the last ten years that hasn’t been excellent. SONG OF SPARROWS, as BARAN, A SEPARATION or BRIDE OF FIRE all equally exemplify. This trend does more than just illistrate the obvious, that the 4000 year old Persian people are some of the deepest most poetic hearts and minds on earth today (they’re are after all responsible for giving us Saadi, Rumi, Haafez and Omar Khayam); it also shows what determined artists can do when willing in the face of more than discouraging odds and strict limitations. If you’re a film afficionado, or a lover of great art of any kind, check out just about anything celluloid from Iran from the last ten to twenty years. You won’t be dissappointed. And don’t let the deceptively simple story-line summaries fool or discourage you from making the leap. That’s part of these movies’ charm. They weave surprisingly deep and profound meaning out of the most seemingly simple plots. And that’s what gives modern Iranian cinema it’s ever growing popularity and it’s lasting appeal.