Melding the familiar Iranian cinema penchant for a child’s p.o.v. with unusually explicit political content — very pro-Palestinian freedom fighters and anti-Israeli military aggression — Javad Ardakani’s “Canary” conveys considerable power, despite not especially subtle or artful craftsmanship. Writer-director’s second feature (following 2001’s “Choori”) transcends frequent awkwardness to deliver potent insight into how children can personalize a cause’s basic rage, even if they don’t yet grasp the larger issues. Jewish fests won’t be signing on for this one, but elsewhere programmers willing to risk controversy should find “Canary’s” sad song an intriguing one.
With his family in turmoil after the arrest of his father by Israeli soldiers, stammering 7-year-old Fares (Ebrahim Khether) finds one stabilizing “friend”: the yellow canary that a local Christian priest entrusts him to “walk” (in its cage) around the neighborhood every day. These excursions are rendered a bit perilous, however, due to a couple jealous older boys in Father Simon’s choir, who regularly chase the cross-species duo.
Sensing the boy’s neediness, Father Simon soon gives him the bird outright, telling him the sensitive pet doesn’t like loud noise. Fares takes this a mite too seriously, smashing the TV set his older brother and near-deaf grandpa watch constantly.
News arrives that Fares’ father has escaped, and the other family members go into hiding; a bewildered Fares is shuttled from one foster home to another with his canary.
Dire ending reps a rather crude level of symbolism. Throughout, “Canary” also suffers from abrupt TV-style scene/music fadeouts, stilted perf moments, and a directorial approach too often flat or heavy-handed.
Yet as story expands from the (initially rather irksome) tale of a Iranian child’s metaphorical quest to encompass the daily reality of life in an occupied Palestinian zone, it rivets despite all flaws. Matter-of-factness with which Fares’ father, brother and neighbors are shown planning or executing armed resistance will startle some Western auds, but feels on-target. Curiously, sole explicit, didactic pro-Palestine speech here is spoken early on by the Christian priest.
Despite occasional long, mannered takes, pic lacks the poetic eye or rhythms associated with recent Iranian export fare; tech/design contribs are just adequate.