Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"What marks Rúnarsson's film out from so many similar coming-of-age films, however, is its strong sense of place and the inner strength of his central character." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Sparrows draws and expands on the themes of director Rúnar Rúnarsson's short film 2 Birds, even casting the same actor Atli Oskar Fjalarsson in the lead role of Ari. The role has grown with him, being about more than just the one night of the short. The feature length enables the writer/director to expand on his melancholic themes, examining coming-of-age but also shining the permanent grey daylight of the Icelandic summer on adults unable to control their own urges let alone those of their children.

Ari's innocence is emphasised from the start, as he lifts his boyish, pure voice with a choir, in virginal white. But things are going to change. Initially it doesn't seem unreasonable that his mum is sending him to live with his dad while she travels to Africa with her second husband (a Dane and a veggie, as though to add insult to injury). But in Rúnarsson's film, there is no clear night and day or black and white, only shades of grey.

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We begin to see why Ari was so reluctant to head out to the sticks once we meet his dad (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, almost unrecognisable from his clean-cut competitive role in Of Horses And Men). A victim of the economic decline and his own addictions, in addition to losing his wife and son to the city, he has also been forced to give up their old house. Retreating to almost teenage behaviour himself - he goes to his mother's (Kristbjörg Kjeld) for tea most evenings before holding open house parties for all the adults of the neighbourhood and going on nightly booze benders - Rúnarsson, like Ari, refuses to completely condemn him, his saving grace a desire to reconnect with his son.

If the adult males of the district are impotent in the face of circumstance, things aren't much better for the next generation down. As Ari tentatively tries to reconnect with Lara (Rakel Björk Björnsdóttir), Rúnarsson paints a vivid picture of the territorial aspects of young men, especially those who, under the less-than-watchful eye of their parents, are able to fuel up on hooch. The twinning Ari's rites of passage to the path of his father, who has discovered there is no light at the end of it, makes for some bleak considerations. These are rendered all the more stark by the drab green and blue palette of Iceland captured by cinematographer Sophia Olsson, which is imposing and unforgiving despite the constant daylight.

What marks Rúnarsson's film out from so many similar coming-of-age stories is its strong sense of place and the inner strength of his central character, aspects which no doubt helped it to win the Golden Shell in San Sebastian. Ari may be isolated in many ways, but there is also friendship here and acts of self-sacrifice which are arrived at rather than taught. The use of a key scene from 2 Birds seems unecessarily melodramatic for the new, more mature landscape of Rúnarsson's feature filmmaking but it nevertheless packs an emotional punch and his subtle nod to the possibility of redemption and reconnection shows that even the most blighted situations can, if you hold on to your sense of humanity, still offer some hope.

Reviewed on: 04 Nov 2015
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A coming-of-age story about the 16-year old boy Ari, who has been living with his mother in Reykjavik and is suddenly sent back to the remote Westfjords to live with his father Gunnar.

Director: Rúnar Rúnarsson

Writer: Rúnar Rúnarsson

Starring: Rade Serbedzija, Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson, Atli Oskar Fjalarsson, Nanna Kristín Magnúsdóttir, Arnoddur Magnus Danks, Kristbjörg Kjeld, Eva Sigurdardottir, Pálmi Gestsson, Víkingur Kristjánsson, Elín Árnadóttir, Benedikt Benediktson, Jarkko Lahti, Júlíus Þorfinnsson, Rakel Björk Björnsdóttir, Katla M. Þorgeirsdóttir

Year: 2015

Runtime: 99 minutes

Country: Iceland, Denmark, Croatia


SSFF 2015
EIFF 2016

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