While constant corporate factors are frequent roadblocks to the success of independent filmmaking – budget, marketing, and star power to name a few – other, creative factors encourage a noticeable foundation in marking a calling card for small-time directors and actors: poignant settings, modestly strong plots, and standout performances. A worthy independent film may have one of these qualities, but only a special indie possesses all three. Such is the case with Noah Buschel’s Sparrows Dance.
Sparrows Dance tells the story of an agoraphobic actress (Marin Ireland) who stops leaving her apartment, crippled by fear of the outside world. Living off delivery food and residuals from her acting career, she spends her days parading through her everyday routines and spying on the city from her window. But when her toilet overflows and a kind, compassionate plumber (Paul Sparks) shows up, she reluctantly allows him into her life.
Set within the confines of this apartment, the film brilliantly balances the claustrophobic entrapment of the characters’ fears and emotions, counterbalancing with breaths of hopeful longing to interact with the outside world. Despite all efforts to stay enclosed, what makes Ireland’s character a resistant fighter is shown in Buschel’s details: calling for help as a stranger is harmed from the city streets below, conversing with the delivery man outside her door as she plays off having company, even masturbating to a couple having sex heard through her apartment wall. These are all signs of a need for human interaction. Even the blinking of the vibrant neon reds and greens from the outside store signs is a constant temptation for the girl to confront her stage fright.
Playing in the vein of other apartment-dwelling films like Carnage, Buschel enhances his limited setting by proving he is masterful with character development and the art of building chemistry between talented performers; this comes as no surprise after the evidence of his 2009 Michael Shannon/Amy Ryan noir film The Missing Person. Adorable and a natural fit together, Ireland and Sparks make the film special. Both are halves of a warped whole, one who is frightened by the world courtesy of a shielded past and the other who drinks the world in through poetry and music. In the end, the audience is compelled to root for their love to flourish. We watch their relationship unfold, knowing all too well that they have to be together. Sparrows Dance is the ultimate hopeful love story that captivates until the last scene. That hopeful yearning comes largely in part from Marlin Ireland’s portrayal of a vulnerable yet strong-willed soul, the actress masterfully embodying every mannerism of a woman closeted from society.
Every physical tic and awkward exchange lures the audience deeper into the protagonist’s mental darkness without ever drawing them out of the film. Many indies of this nature ride a fine line of being heavier and darker in tone than they have any right to be. Although Sparrows Dance comes close, the film firmly stays charming and comfortably contained, exemplifying the art of single-location storytelling.