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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2015 Competition

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Sparrows: An abrupt farewell to innocence


- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2015: Icelandic director Rúnar Rúnarsson has made an unhurried chronicle of the transition from adolescence to adulthood, which is much harsher and more brutal than it first appears

Sparrows: An abrupt farewell to innocence
Atli Óskar Fjalarsson and Ingvar E Sigurdsson in Sparrows

Ari is 16 years old and, although he is as tall as a man, he is still a boy: he sings like an angel in an almost heavenly choir, and his mum spoils him rotten like a little kid. He has spent the last few years of his life in Reykjavik, in a comfort zone underpinned by his overprotective mother and an environment of untarnished colours, where there seems to be no room for wickedness or deviousness. But when she heads off to Africa with her new partner, Ari is sent to the area of the West Fjords, where he spent his childhood, so that his father, Gunnar, can take care of him.

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As soon as he arrives, we realise that Gunnar is not a good-natured man: he is an uptight, uncommunicative alcoholic with the manners of a Viking. At the same time, Ari meets up again with his childhood friends, who, like him, have now transformed into drifting, confused teenagers given to excesses. On top of all this, he begins to experience a sexual awakening: his curiosity is piqued and he feels the suppressed desire to lose his virginity, perhaps with that lifelong female friend of his. But in this part of the country, it is the dark side of life that lies in wait… and Ari will abruptly discover the heartaches inherent in becoming a man while he attempts to cope with his obstinate father.

In Sparrows [+see also:
film focus
interview: Atli Óskar Fjalarsson
interview: Rúnar Rúnarsson
film profile
, presented in competition at the 63rd San Sebastián Film Festival after being shown at the 40th Toronto Film Festival, we embark upon a voyage together with the young protagonist from the capital of Iceland to one of the most remote and fascinating corners of the country. We head away from a dull, grey Reykjavik to the snow-sprinkled greenery of magnificent mountains, during those Nordic summers when the sun never sets: that soft, faint, almost artificial light lends the film a slightly dreamlike atmosphere, in which the air we breathe is simultaneously pure and disquieting. Rúnar Rúnarsson keeps such a steady hand on the camera that it never emphasises particular actions or makes them stand out – rather, they are all portrayed with the gentle pace that prevails when one lives in a rural fishing environment, characterised by a tedium, distance and routine that, paradoxically, end up magnifying everything.

This place of captivating beauty (which the filmmaker was already familiar with and had borne in mind while writing the screenplay) enchants us and, through its mise-en-scène, which relies heavily on silences and glances, the movie whisks us away to that moment of personal isolation and bewilderment at which new emotions that are difficult to channel begin to domineer the existence of every teenager. This is also compounded by the lingering close-ups of young actor Atli Óskar Fjalarsson, who is supported by the magnificent Ingvar E Sigurdsson as the surly father and a conspirational grandmother played brilliantly by Kristbjörg Kjeld.

Rúnarsson claims that with this film, a work of poetic realism, he has painted a portrait of the grim reality of his country, since what he recounts in Sparrows has been extracted from various events that he has experienced directly himself or second hand, through his friends' accounts: something terrifying that is unveiled in the third act of this stark farewell to innocence.

Sparrows, which had a budget of €1.5 million, is a production involving Iceland, Denmark and Croatia: the outfits involved were Nimbus Film and Nimbus Iceland, in conjunction with MP Film Productions, Pegasus Pictures and Halibut Iceland. French company Versatile is in charge of its international sales.

(Translated from Spanish)

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