Sparrows (Þrestir), directed by Rúnar Rúnarsson, is a beautiful film about a sometimes ugly subject. It’s a coming-of-age story, full of artistic beauty, symbolism, realism, and a deep understanding of the human soul.
The film begins with a choir singing in a church, and Ari (played by Atli Óskar Fjalarsson), the main character, is singing. There is peace and harmony all around. Shortly afterwards, we get a close-up of the 16-year-old Ari under his comforter, being rushed by his mother, who is ready to send him from the city to the West Fjords to live with his father (played by Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson). Ari is cuddled up, unwilling to leave his comfortable nest and fly.
But fly he must and the symbolism is clear. On a grey, overcast day, he flies by airplane to an entirely different world of stunning landscape. The transition to his new home is a passage through a tunnel; on the other side, a new life of adulthood awaits him.
The reception he gets is both warm and cold—his grandmother (played by Kristbjörg Kjeld) receives him warmly, but he must now work like an adult in a freezing plant, where the light is as cold as the surroundings. The fledgling Ari discovers the cruelty of adult life: his wings are injured with feelings of loneliness, rejection and grief, and, worst of all, the discovery of helplessness, or literally paralysis, against human beastliness.
This is a time to discover the adult world with all its temptations of alcohol, drugs and sex. There is love to be found, but also immense cruelty. Adults cannot be depended on; some of them have utterly failed to shoulder responsibility in a ruthless world. Ari’s father is a victim of self-pity and unable to provide his son with the shelter he needs.
The cast of Sparrows is a mix of highly experienced actors, such as Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson and Kristbjörg Kjeld, and young, less experienced ones, such as Atli Óskar Fjalarsson, Rakel Björk Björnsdóttir (in the role of his childhood friend Lára), and Valgeir Skagfjörð (in the role of his new friend Bassi). All give a highly laudable performance. Their acting is without exaggeration and so natural that it appears effortless.
The same can be said about the movie’s sense of humor; it’s entirely effortless. The script is very well written and makes the conversations flow naturally. At times, the conversation was somewhat hard to hear, but for the most part, it was clear.
What makes Sparrows stand out as a work of art is its filming. Surely, the landscape is majestic, but there is just as much beauty in the close-ups and the brilliant use of windows, mirrors and reflection. The close-ups of mother and son, father and son, boy and girl, are memorable, as are the ugliest scenes, where the viewer is spared some of the horror by the use of frames and mirrors. The second scene of violence, though, could have had as strong an effect without being quite so visible.
Art in the form of song is a recurrent theme in Sparrows. It’s a constant source of peace and serenity, hope and consolation, regardless of the setting. It’s a reminder that even on our darkest days, life always offers a ray of hope.
With Sparrows, Rúnar Rúnarsson has shown that he is no fledgling in the world of film. He has succeeded in making a highly artistic movie that digs deep into human emotions, explores the imperfections of man, the complexities of reaching adulthood, and our constant search for shelter and serenity. With this work, Rúnar has proven his ability to soar among filmmakers.
Sparrows won first prize at the San Sebastián International Film Festival in September.
The film premieres in Iceland at Háskólabíó cinema at the Reykjavík International Film Festival (RIFF) tonight at 6:00 pm in Icelandic with English subtitles.
Directed, written and produced by Rúnar Rúnarsson. Also produced by Mikkel Jersin. Production Company: Nimbus Film/Nimbus Iceland.