Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir’s feature debut is adapted from Guðbergur Bergsson’s novel of the same name. Set in a rural, desolate area of Iceland, a troubled young Sól (Grima Valsdóttir) is sent to her aunt and uncle’s farm to live and learn how to be a good girl again after being caught “thieving.” This brilliantly creative girl witnesses the realities of farm life, relationships, and nature, and discovers the beauty as well as the repugnant aspects of the world around her. Told from a child’s point of view, visually and cognitively, “The Swan” is truly a rare beauty, that allows us to not only see, but feel the pains of growing up.
We meet Sól as she and her mother lovingly cuddle in her bed. It’s a magical moment between the two as Sól’s dependence upon her mother is genuine and sweet. It is also within this very scene that we hear the cutting words that this precious little girl is no longer thought to be a good girl. The harshness of these words is stunning and from this point, the viewer is a part of Sól, feeling what she feels, and completely understanding her thoughts and actions. Sól is shipped on a bus by herself to meet her relatives where everything and everyone is foreign to her. Her keen observational skills accompanied by the accompanying narration of her poetic thoughts and stories, create a uniquely wonderful character.
Sól is quickly introduced to the cycle of nature, human and animal, as she helps deliver a calf and then later witnesses its slaughter. The realization of survival and the choices we make spill over into her understanding of her college-aged cousin Asta, (Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir) with whom she wants desperately to admire. However, Asta’s selfishness and morality make it difficult for Sól to connect for any length of time. It is her unexpected relationship with the introspective and handsomeFarmhand Jon (Þorvaldur Davíð Kristjánsson) that allows Sól to understand what life is truly about. There is a big brother feel to his interactions, but Sól teeters between little sister and having a crush on him. He’s bitter and angry as he attempts to be a writer— the perfect person for Sól to look up to as she too loves to tell stories. Jon’s protective nature is at once evident, but his brutal honesty may be more than this little girl can handle. This weakening grasp on childhood opens her eyes so she no longer is able to see the world through rose-colored glasses. They are shattered into shards of reality, a point at which we all have gone through, but perhaps never in such a definitive way.
“The Swan” is cinematically stunning as it captures the essence of Iceland as well as the graphic brutality of survival. While the beauty is evident, the situation at hand cuts deeply through the superficiality of life to reveal the underbelly of human nature and nature itself. Grima Valsdóttir is stellar in the role of Sól. This young girl’s understanding of her role and the ability to express such complicated emotions and thoughts without uttering a word is nothing short of remarkable. Þuríður Blær Jóhannsdóttir’s portrayal of the spoiled and conflicted young woman with a broken heart and sometimes heartless, is equally as powerful creating an amazing balance of personality with young Sól. Þorvaldur Davíð Kristjánsson gives a meaningfully captivating performance as he too is trying to understand life and relationships.
“The Swan” is gorgeously poetic and deeply meaningful creating one of the most powerful, haunting, and mesmerizing portrayals of transitioning between childhood innocence and young adulthood. With stunning cinematography, deft direction, and poignant writing, the story sweeps you away, reminding us of the balance in life and the complexities of growing up.
Tue 12 Sept 11:30AM TIFF Bell Lightbox Cinema 4, Public Screening
Wed 13 Sept 4:45PM Scotiabank 6, P&I Screening
Sun 17 Sept 12:30PM Jackman Hall, Public Screening