Film Marie O'Sullivan's Film Reviews

Film Review: The Swan

The Swan 1

Marie feels conflicted about this Icelandic tale of a young girl surrounded by relationships she doesn’t yet understand.


When we meet 9-year-old Sól (Gríma Valsdóttir) at the start of the story, she is leaving for a summer stay with relatives to try to correct her wayward behaviour (which is not fully explained). She is met off the bus by a kindly but distant couple, who allow her to settle in before assigning her tasks around their farm.

Sól is a dreamer, a teller of stories, and more in tune with the animals and nature around her than with people. In the true style of Icelandic bards, she speaks her fairy tales to the audience – tales of a young girl and a monster, tales of the landscape around her.

As she adjusts to her new surroundings, a man joins them at the farm; a returning worker who seems to understand Sól. Shortly afterward, the daughter of the house returns from university, and Sól observes the grown-up relationships of the adults around her in a state of puzzlement. She’s a little too young to fully understand the conflict and emotions in which she becomes entangled.

Just a couple of weeks ago I reviewed another film about a fatherless young girl on the cusp of adolescence living on a farm with a stranger. It’s not fair to compare the two, but there are striking similarities which unfortunately worked to the detriment of The Swan for me.

The Swan is beautifully shot, frequently at the eye-line of a 9-year-old, so that it’s easy to see how Sól views the world. But a couple of her encounters with the farm worker make very uncomfortable viewing. He definitely imposes himself and is shown being way too intimate with her without any consequence. The sleeping arrangements (which I won’t explain here) lack any explanation or justification and left a very nasty taste throughout. In fact, the lack of consequence for anyone’s actions is frequent in the second half, and the whole rolls towards a confusing and unsatisfactory conclusion, spoiling what could otherwise have been an intriguing, ethereal tale of a young girl struggling with growing up.

The Swan opens in NY on 10th August and in LA on 17th August.

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