Valur Gunnarsson skrifar um Svaninn eftir Ásu Helgu Hjörleifsdóttir í Reykjavik Grapevine og segir að áherslan á sakleysið sé það sem geri myndina að hugrökku verki.
The Swan, a novella from 1991, is a very literary piece of work, but Ása has managed to turn it into pure cinema. It is not so much an adaptation as transformation of one form to another, bringing to mind Philip Kaufmann’s handling of the supposedly unfilmable Unbearable Lightness of Being. The story is told via sight and sound, with only brief glimpses of the poetry of the source material. With the story already in place, Ása can get down to the business of making a film, producing beautiful shots and good performances from a multi-generational cast.
Perhaps the film errs in moving the setting to the present day, as evidenced by the child having a mobile phone and perhaps by the young moving to Berlin. Other aspects, such as secret diaries, the horsemen’s ball or even the very idea of sending children to stay on a farm for the summer, while all still possible today, seem to belong more to 1991. But this is a place outside of time and only a minor gripe.
What makes the story relevant today is it’s handling of what is a greater taboo now than it was then. Perhaps it takes a Guðbergur or a Freud to deal with pre-teen sexuality, but Ása treats it expertly. We explore the world through the eyes of a nine-year old girl who develops a fondness for an adult workman. Given the current climate, one is constantly worried that he will abuse her, but no, sometimes people just like being kind to children. Not because of some ulterior motive, but, as Chaplin said, because people are like that. Well, most of the time. We get glimpses of the adult world, but childhood is never violated. And yet taken seriously. It is the emphasis on innocence that makes The Swan such a brave piece of work.