×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘No Land’s Song’

The quest to revive the solo female voice in Iran drives this gripping documentary.

With:
Sara Najafi, Parvin Namazi, Sayeh Sodeyfi, Elise Caron, Jeanne Cherhal, Emel Mathlouthi, Edward Perraud, Maryam Tajhdeh, Ali Rahimi, Sebastien Hoog, Imed Alibi, Ali Kazemian, Chakad Fesharaki. (Farsi, French, English dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3614356/

Composer Sara Najafi’s quest to hold a public concert in Tehran featuring the solo female voice, something prohibited in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, provides the backdrop for “No Land’s Song,” a finely tooled, multi-layered documentary directed by her brother, helmer Ayat Najafi. His gripping chronicle of her efforts covdders a nearly three-year period and is as full of ups and downs as a roller coaster, and bursting with beautiful music. The inspiring, enlightening, audience-friendly pic has been making the festival rounds for more than a year, and should profitably segue into small-screen outlets and classrooms.

The intrepid, vivacious Sara Najafi, the first woman to receive an advanced degree in composition in Iran, knows about the prohibitions against her project but is determined to counter them. Her vocalist friends, mezzo-soprano Sayeh Sodeyfi and Parvin Namazi, one of the great traditional Persian voices of the present age, are eager to participate. Namazi amusingly recounts how, when performing in ensembles, she seizes every chance she gets to sneak in a small solo, while Sodeyfi, who teaches at an art academy, marvels that most of her students are female.

To give viewers have a better idea of what his sister is up against, the director cleverly includes commentary from a religious scholar and Iranian bureaucrats. As the scholar drones on about how the solo female voice could cause sexual arousal, the look on Sara’s face is priceless.

Sara also secretly records her meetings with the ever-changing officials at the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance by slipping a tape recorder under her layers of hijab. After telling her that the concert could never happen the way she wants, some officials suggest that the women could sing as backup to male performers, or that the audience could be limited to other women. But as Sara continues to argue her case, we hear a clearly exasperated bureaucrat say, “Does anything have a clear answer in this country? A lot of things have no reason.”

The helmer also provides another layer with a short history of women vocalists in Iran. We hear recordings of “Bird of Dawn” (“Morq-e Sahar”), performed by Qamar, a legendary female artist who broke taboos in Iranian society during the 1920s by singing in front of a mixed public. We see archival photos of Qamar, as well as film footage from a 1960 film in which Delkash, another famous femme thrush, sings about drunkenness and lust. Sara also visits the Lalehzhar Street area of Tehran, which was home to the pre-revolutionary nightclubs, and interviews old men in a coffeehouse about their memories of the music of that time.

As her project is continually rejected by the authorities, the savvy Sara decides to add a cultural bridge component to the concert: three female vocalists based in France — Elise Caron, Jeanne Cherhal and fiery Tunisian Emel Mathlouthi — as well as avant-garde French male instrumentalists Sebastien Hoog and Edward Perraud will play traditional Persian songs. As the foreigners learn the complicated rules regulating women’s appearance in public in Iran (headscarves as well as loose-fitting, long-sleeved shirts and long pants required), they express support for the project, but also some doubts and fears. Hearing the French artists practice together and with their Iranian counterparts reps one of the most moving and beautiful parts of the film.

While cogently outlining the obstacles the project faced and the political repercussions, the pic also excels in depicting all of its subjects’ passion for music — a passion that is remarkably similar across cultures. Aces in all respects, “No Land’s Song” benefits from the determined yet gentle onscreen presence of Sara, as well as her curious and talented collaborators, who are unafraid to express thoughts that many Westerners might be having.

The clean, sharp, atmospheric HD camerawork leads a strong production package. The energetic editing keeps things dynamic, as do the stirring songs and outstanding sound design. Sara, who has recently moved to L.A., told Vancouver audiences that her next project is to release a CD of music from the film.

Film Review: 'No Land's Song'

Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival (Nonfiction Films), Oct. 3, 2015. (In Doc NYC.) Running time: 91 MIN.  

Production: (Documentary — Germany-France) A Torero Film, Hanfgarn & Ufer, Chaz Prods. production, in association with Al Jazeera, with the support of Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, MFG Filmforderung Baden-Wurttemberg, Kuratorium Junger Deutscher Film, CNC, SACEM, Institut Francais — Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres, TV5 Monde. (International sales: Illumina Films, Amsterdam.) Produced by Gunter Hanfgarn, Rouven Rech, Teresa Renn, Patrick Merkle, Anne Grange.

Crew: Directed, written by Ayat Najafi. Camera (color, HD), Kooyhar Kalari, Sarah Blum; editors, Julia Wiedwald, Schokofeh Kamiz; music, Sara Najafi, Parvin Namazi, Sebastien Hoog, Edward Perraud, Hossein Alizadeh, Elise Caron, Emel Mathlouthi; sound designer, Oliver Stahn.

With: Sara Najafi, Parvin Namazi, Sayeh Sodeyfi, Elise Caron, Jeanne Cherhal, Emel Mathlouthi, Edward Perraud, Maryam Tajhdeh, Ali Rahimi, Sebastien Hoog, Imed Alibi, Ali Kazemian, Chakad Fesharaki. (Farsi, French, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Alain Berliner To Direct Cannes-Set ‘Second

    ‘Ma Vie en Rose’s’ Alain Berliner Directs Star Cast in ‘Second to Nun’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    Page Three Media and Artemis Productions, which backed “The Danish Girl,” announced in Cannes “Second to Nun,” a new feature from Golden Globe winning director Alain Berliner. Berliner’s decades-ahead-of-its-time “Ma Vie en Rose,” the tale of a young transgender girl with dreams of growing into a mature woman and marrying the boy next door, was [...]

  • Artist Andrew Levitas Tackles Corporate Greed

    Artist Andrew Levitas Tackles Corporate Greed in Johnny Depp Starring 'Minamata'

    Andrew Levitas has carved out a unique place in the art world, having used his considerable skills across multiple creative platforms. A filmmaker, painter, sculptor, producer, writer, actor and photographer, Levitas is also the founder of Metalwork Pictures, a media production company that develops and produces original content, including his 2014 directorial debut, “Lullaby,” as [...]

  • Oliver Laxe

    Cannes: ‘Fire Will Come’s’ Oliver Laxe on Classicism, Avant-Guard, Egos

    CANNES  —    Spain’s Oliver Laxe returns to Cannes for the third time with“Fire Will Come” (O Que Arde), competing in Un Certain Regard— the first time a Galician-language film is selected for Cannes. He has pedigree. His first time round, in 2010, Laxe snagged a Fipresci nod for his Directors’ Fortnight title “You All [...]

  • Gael Garcia Bernal'La Belle Epoque' premiere,

    Gael Garcia Bernal on Cannes Out of Competition Screening ‘Chicuarotes,’ Hope for Mexico

    CANNES  —  There’s a scene right at the beginning of “Chicuarotes,” Gael García Bernal’s second movie as a director, where Cagalera and Moleteco, two teens from the humble San Gregorio Atlapulco district of Mexico City, board a bus in clown’s makeup, and launch into a clumsy comedic sketch. Maybe because it’s delivered in San Gregorio [...]

  • Italy's Notorious Pictures on Buying Spree

    Cannes: Italy's Notorious Pictures on Buying Spree Takes 'Vivarium,' Ups Production (EXCLUSIVE)

    Italian distribution, production, and exhibition company Notorious Pictures is on a buying spree at the Cannes Film Market where they’ve acquired four high-profile titles, including Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots sci-fi-fier “Vivarium,” which world-premiered in Critics’ Week. On the production side the expanding outfit has teamed up with Belgium’s Tarantula Productions on Islamic terrorism thriller [...]

  • Marco Bellocchio The Traitor Cannes

    Director Marco Bellocchio Talks About Cannes Mafia Drama 'The Traitor'

    Cannes veteran Marco Bellocchio’s vast body of work spans from “Fists in the Pockets” (1965) to “Sweet Dreams,” which launched at Directors’ Fortnight in 2016. The auteur known for psychodramas and for bringing the complexities of Italian history, and hypocrisy, to the big screen is back, this time in competition, with “The Traitor,” a biopic [...]

  • Director Tudor Giurgiu on Transylvania Film

    Director Tudor Giurgiu on Transilvania Film Festival Opening Film ‘Parking’

    CANNES–A poet, a romantic, and a stranger in a strange land, Adrian is a Romanian immigrant working as a night watchman at a car dealership in Cordoba. After leaving his old life behind, he falls in love with a Spanish singer who offers him a shot at reinvention. But when a money-making scheme by his [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content