The maturity of a teenage city boy is measured to the extremes in this rural coming-of-age drama set amongst the Icelandic Westfjords. Sparrows captures the essential factors that make up teenage dramas, and though these themes may seem predictable, director Rúnar Rúnarsson filters in the Icelandic culture and attitude to give this film a necessary difference that excludes it from typical teenage drama genres.
The white vaulted Hallgrímskirkja is the first thing we see in the film before the camera reveals a pale-robed choir of teenage boys. One of these boys is our sixteen-year-old Ari (Atli Oskar Fjalarsson), a quiet and lanky teenager. Ari is forced from his nest (evoking the films metaphorical title) as his mother packs up their home in Reykjavik as she is about to head to Africa to supervise a research project along with her Danish husband. Ari is sent to a remote village on the Westfjords to live with his estranged father Gunnar (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson). In this village alcohol and drugs seem to be the primary form of self medicating as everyone is dealing with their own problems. After six years absence from his father, Ari is dismayed to find that Gunnar is just as much of an adolescent as he is – drinking too much, hardly working, and living off his own mother.
Ari’s new environment doesn’t prove to be welcoming. The only redeeming aspect to his move is his gentle grandmother, who disapproves of Gunnar’s drunken partying. Ari is also reunited with his childhood friend Lara, but her obsessive boyfriend Einar is hostile towards Ari, only isolating him more from the narrow social circle. When his grandmother dies suddenly, Ari’s isolation becomes unbearable, all the more crushing because anyone who can console him seems to be constantly drunk.
The coming of age story lifts well above the teen drama by its exemplary directing and equally exemplary surroundings. Rúnarsson directs Sparrows with the Icelandic slowness we are seeing come out of Iceland, however it works to his advantage as it captures the pace of the remote village and allows us to see beyond typical teenage dramas and father-son tensions – instead allowing the audience to take in the nuances of the passage into a new and unwelcoming environment.