When young Sól is sent to live with her distant countryside relatives for a summer, she becomes entangled in a dramatic rite of passage with a mysterious farmhand, Jón, and the farmer’s daughter, Ásta.

Discovery

The Swan

Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir

Adapted from Guðbergur Bergsson's celebrated novel, Ása Helga Hjörleifsdóttir's assured feature debut recounts, with poignancy and skill, a young girl's brief, eventful exile. Summering on a farm during childhood is an Icelandic tradition that only recently began to fade. (It was supposed to teach kids to be more independent.) For The Swan's nine-year-old heroine, Sól (Grima Valsdóttir), there is an added element: she's been sent away to her relative's farm as punishment for shoplifting, and because her parents have split. Managing an unruly child is too much for her mother to handle alone.

"Everything is so old and smells weird," Sól initially complains before gradually comprehending that her uncle and aunt's gruff manner isn't ill will. The animals charm her, and she befriends a young Icelandic worker. The more acquainted she becomes with the ways of the farm, though, the more contradictions she notices, especially the couple's constant claim that nature's laws are the reasons for their actions. When her cousin Ásta returns home, Sól begins to realize that the adult world is far more complicated and callous than she ever anticipated.

Told from Sól's perspective — and fusing her realizations with haunting dreams and myths about local monsters and beasts — The Swan is the sometimes troubling and always affecting tale of a child's growth that also indirectly charts a nation's maturation.

STEVE GRAVESTOCK

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