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Rúnar Rúnarsson • Director

"Life is more complex than a single moral in 90 minutes"


- At the Les Arcs European Film Festival, talented Icelandic director Rúnar Rúnarsson broke down his second feature film, Sparrows

Rúnar Rúnarsson  • Director
(© Arcs European Film Festival)

Following Volcano [+see also:
film profile
, which was the real revelation of the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight in 2011, Rúnar Rúnarsson has lived up to all his potential with Sparrows [+see also:
film review
interview: Atli Óskar Fjalarsson
interview: Rúnar Rúnarsson
film profile
, the winner of this year’s San Sebastián and now being presented in competition at the seventh Les Arcs European Film Festival, an event that the Icelandic filmmaker is very much used to attending, as his film was selected in the Coproduction Village in 2013 and in Work-in-Progress last year. 

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Cineuropa: Which themes did you wish to tackle in Sparrows?
Rúnar Rúnarsson: Too many films are only designed to recount one single thing, and sometimes they even claim to present the truth, as if they were Biblical stories. I don’t like that, and I want my movies to be broader. Of course, Sparrows is about a young man’s passage into adulthood as he goes through a transitional period, but the film also talks about father-son relationships, integration, going back to your roots, masculinity, love, loss and forgiveness. I like to work with a lot of elements because life is more complex than a single moral in 90 minutes. Life is not black and white; it is grey, with a spectrum of shades of grey. That’s the reality, and I want the audience to detect that. And then it’s a film, so it has to be both visual and narrative. And since I realised that viewers like to be able to identify the exact genres of movies, my crew and I define what we do as poetic realism, because it’s important to have both beauty and aesthetics. 

While it is not overly murky, the world we see in Sparrows is very harsh. Is that how you see life?
You have to be aware that there are obstacles to overcome all throughout your life, and that minor and major tragedies are bound to crop up. But you have to highlight the good things. And while there are one or two events in my film that people may find shocking, my intention was not to shock gratuitously, but rather for people to feel the beauty that comes after this ugliness. It’s a mistake to let the viewer think that everything is fine and dandy, like they do in Hollywood productions, or that life is a living hell with no hope, as portrayed by certain arthouse movies. Neither of these standpoints is accurate, because in life, when you fall down, you pick yourself up and the sun starts shining again. There is always hope – you should never give up. 

Do you have a particular shooting technique?
I met most of my colleagues, particularly my editor and my DoP, at film school in Denmark. We worked on a lot of projects, and together we came up with our own style, particularly with the pace of the scenes that matches the realism we aim for. We don’t cut, and quite often we use what is filmed after the take. Furthermore, although I didn’t have the means to get hold of 35 mm, Sparrows was shot on Super 16 because there’s nothing better than a film reel in terms of its finesse. We live in a world of HD screens that bombard us with dreadful contrasts, and when we watch a movie shot on film reel under decent conditions, we get to rediscover real cinema. And it even cost less to shoot on Super 16 than it would have on digital! 

In your view, what’s coming up next for your career? Are you inextricably tied to Iceland?
Iceland is a small country, and I’ve always co-produced my films with Denmark, where I lived for eight years, and I’ve been backed by the funds in both countries. Perhaps my next film will be set in Denmark, as that would be a fairly logical step, after all. I’m also comfortable with the English language, but I’ll never go to work in a place that I know nothing about. I have to live and breathe the atmosphere and discover the environment to be able to paint a portrait of it: that is part of my writing process. And it’s important for me to work with people I trust, to have all the artistic freedom I can possibly have and to have control over the process of crafting my movies. Because those choices that seem to be mere practical matters are actually artistic choices. 

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(Translated from French)

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