×
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

  • Nadine Labaki

    Cannes: Nadine Labaki to Head Un Certain Regard Jury

    Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaki has been named president of the jury for Un Certain Regard in Cannes. The Festival said Labaki had been chosen after “moving hearts and minds at the last Festival de Cannes with her Academy Award- and Golden Globe-nominated ‘Capernaum,’ which won the Jury Prize.” More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns [...]

  • Osmosis

    Netflix Unveils Four More French Originals, 'Gims,' 'Anelka,' 'Move,' 'Of Earth And Blood'

    As it prepares to open a fully-staffed office in France and ramp up its investment in local originals, Netflix has unveiled three new documentaries, “Move” (working title), “Gims” (working title), and “Anelka” (working title), and the feature film “Of Earth And Blood” while at Series Mania in Lille. Announced during a panel with Netflix’s commissioning [...]

  • Miramax Developing 'I Won't Be Home

    Film News Roundup: Miramax Developing 'I Won't Be Home for Christmas'

    In today’s film news roundup, “I Won’t Be Home for Christmas” is in the works, the NFL has made a documentary about female team owners and D Street Pictures has signed Kenny Gage and Devon Downs to direct the dance feature “Move.” HOLIDAY PROJECT More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns a Wide-Ranging, All-Female Salute [...]

  • Michael B. Jordan arrives at the

    Michael B. Jordan to Star in Warner Bros.' 'Methuselah' Movie

    Michael B. Jordan will produce and star in a “Methuselah” movie for Warner Bros., based on the Biblical story of a man who lived to be 969 years old. Jordan will produce through his Outlier Society production company along with Heyday’s David Heyman and Jeffrey Clifford. More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono Earns a Wide-Ranging, [...]

  • Davids Chief Piera Detassis on Revamping

    Davids Chief Piera Detassis on Revamping Italy's Top Film Awards

    Piera Detassis recently became the first woman to head the David di Donatello Awards, Italy’s equivalent of the Oscars. Since then she’s been busy overhauling the inner workings of the prizes that will be awarded on Wednesday. Detassis, also the editor of Italian film publication Ciak, spoke exclusively to Variety about the challenges she’s faced [...]

  • Matteo Garrone's 'Dogman' Leads Davids Awards

    Matteo Garrone's 'Dogman' Leads Davids Awards Race

    With 15 nominations Matteo Garrone’s “Dogman” leads the pack of contenders for Italy’s David di Donatello Awards in a watershed year for the country’s top film nods that sees highbrow auteur titles reaping most of the David love just as local box-office grosses hit an all-time low. Garrone’s gritty revenge drama is followed closely with [...]

  • steven spielberg Apple TV Plus

    Steven Spielberg's Apple Appearance Riles Up Social Media: 'Big Old Mixed Message'

    Many Hollywood heavyweights flocked to Apple’s Cupertino, Calif. headquarters to help reveal the tech giant’s revamped steaming service Apple TV+ on Monday — but one such legend was so polarizing he became a national trending topic on Twitter for simply showing his face. Steven Spielberg was the first to appear in a dramatic short film [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content