Seemingly Simplistic: "The Song of Sparrows" By Gulnara Abikeyeva

in 58th Berlinale

by Gulnara Abikeyeva

The films of Majid Majidi are noteworthy because they reflect the expertise of the director to show philosophical truths in very simple situations that life bring. However, the roots of the philosophy embedded in the Islam tradition are what fascinate the audience the most. The director questions serious dialogues of a human being with God. What does Allah send to human beings? Are human beings capable of taking up the challenges and be grateful for the blessings of life they receive? The most important feature of s Majidi film is that it is not dictating the rules of what it ought to be. His stories are like philosophical proverbs — they are told as a matter of fact and not as a matter of judgment.

In his new film, The Song of Sparrows (Avaze gonjeshk-ha), shown at the Berlinale Film Festival 2008, there are several proverbs.

“Cast out from the ostrich heaven”. This is the first story — a very general one but, nevertheless, it serves as the basis for the entire film. The major character of the film, Kerim, lives a harmonious life: he is a loved husband and the father of three children. Regardless of the fact that he and his wife are not young anymore he suggests to spend nights on the roof of their house as they used to do when they were young. Kerim works on the ostrich farm and just one egg can be served as an omelet for his family as well as for the neighbors’ family. However, an ostrich runs away from the farm and Kerim is unexpectedly fired. Where is the philosophical note, then? Being cast out from the farm is a prerequisite for the change in the life of a human being. It is a call of destiny. The film finishes with a scene where Kerim’s co-workers notify him that the run-away ostrich returned back to the farm and thus Kerim can return back to his job as well; however, does Kerim want to return back since his life has changed and he himself has perhaps changed as well?

“If one door shuts, a skylight window opens”. Unemployed Kerim travels to the city to fix the hearing device for his eldest daughter. He finds out that it is impossible to fix and he needs to buy a new expensive one. This is a seeming climax of desperation of Kerim, but destiny turns to him with a happy face: a person shares a ride on Kerim’s motorcycle thinking that Kerim earns money from a motorcycle-taxi business. Second person. Third person. As a result, Kerim finds out that he earns three times more with this job than with working on the ostrich farm. But instead of buying the hearing device for his eldest daughter, he starts to collect old household items, turning his house into a warehouse of garbage.

“Giving charity is one of the five major obligations of a Muslim”. There is a scene, when a young girl comes to Kerim and asks him for charity. The girl looks very similar to his daughter. At first, he is hesitant in trying to find some change and after some time he refuses to give anything. Kerim was not able to value the present of life that was given to him. His new way of earning money did not make him kinder, more generous, not talking about the rule of Islam to give ten percent of your earnings in charity to people in need. He did not give charity to the young girl and in his insane greediness he refused to give to the neighbors an old door, a window frame, while he did not make use of those items himself.

“A human has three circles of close people — family, neighbors, and friends”. The greediness and individualism of Kerim have almost eaten him up. While he was sorting out his garbage, he broke his leg and became an invalid for several months. If it was not for his neighbors, his family would have had a very difficult time. His neighbors took him to the hospital and helped his wife and children with food and other necessities. This friendship was still holding only because of Kerim’s wife. This household-items-garbage was only useful to build a house for a homeless dog.

“There is never too many gold fish”. One of the sacred wishes of Kerim’s son was to keep goldfish in the pond near the house. However, no matter how long he was asking for money from his father, there was never enough money for the goldfish. In the end, the son started to earn money himself. He helped the neighbor to distribute the plants in the neighborhood. Local boys bought around one hundred goldfish, but soon have noticed that the gallon of water where they have placed the fish first was leaking. They had to choose between keeping the fish in the gallon and watch it die on asphalt or letting it go into the river. They were only able to bring home a couple of gold fish in a plastic bag. This was still like a little miracle for the boys.

“There are different ways of spending time given by Allah to us — collect garbage or make a Haj”. Kerim and an old man, Ramezan, worked on the ostrich farm together. They have left the farm almost at the same time. Kerim was fired because of missing out on an ostrich, while Ramezan left the job himself to visit sacred places in Afghanistan. Kerim took Ramezan to the bus stop and gave Ramezan money to bring it to the saint places and leave it there. While Kerim was struggling with his new role in life and all the events that happened to him, Ramezan returned back from his Haj and came to Kerim with God’s blessing.

This is the story. Visually, one only remembers the scene where Kerim is at the ostrich farm. He is trying to catch this strange awkwardly big bird. It seems that for Kerim this job was indeed a heaven.