You could sum up the arc of this drama from Iranian director Majid Majidi (The Color of Paradise) thusly: A man (Naji) loses his job. He then becomes a driver in order to support his family. It’s a basic narrative, but like the art-house imports that came out of the Middle Eastern country in the fertile ’90s, The Song of Sparrows possesses a deceptive simplicity. The film could serve as a regional-cinema primer: Staples such as landscapes heavily freighted with metaphor and precocious kids—here in the form of the hero’s son (Aghazi) and his buddies—show up in bulk. And like its predecessors, the film’s neorealistic style emphasizes both the rough beauty of rural terrain and Tehran’s urban chaos.
Yet pinpointing Sparrows’ nods to yesterday’s New Wave doesn’t nearly do justice to the lyricism that is the director’s stock-in-trade. Words can describe a handful of moments—a blue door carried on a man’s back, an ostrich doing a Saint Vitus’ dance, goldfish flopping on a pale concrete walkway—but reductive statements don’t replicate the impact or vitality of the images. It’s Majidi’s impeccable eye that lifts the movie’s everyday-people parable above the norm; wedded to such visual poetry, even its minor tragedies and smaller victories seem positively profound.