The adult world can be hard to understand when you’re nine. This isn’t an uncommon theme in cinema, but Ása Helga Hjörleifsdótirr’s bold debut feature takes it further. When you’re nine, it can be difficult to understand yourself. Sól (Grima Valsdóttir) doesn’t know why she steals things and causes trouble. She has a concept of right and wrong but her own motives are more obscure – sometimes she just follows her instincts and then people are angry. Now her mother’s despair has led to her being sent away.
It’s unlikely that you’ve seen a more resentful looking child than Valsdóttir, but her range becomes apparent as the story develops and Sól experiences complex feelings for the farmhand, also having to come to terms with the fact that adults might not know what they’re doing either.
It’s that forceful central performance that really makes The Swan special, together with Martin Neumeyer’s atmospheric but never overbearing cinematography, which brings out the light as well as the darkness in the hills. Hjörleifsdótirr handles her cast with assurance to produce a film that feels remarkably solid, a story firmly rooted in the landscape. Not so much a coming of age story as a story about the self-discovery that can happen at any time of life – or never – this is a film whose beauty cloaks real intelligence.
Jennie Kermode, Eye For Film