Sparrows Dance: An Agoraphobic Boogie


Masterful in its silences, a little less so in its chatter, writer/director Noah Buschel's Sparrows Dance  begins almost as a tribute to Chantal Akerman’s masterpiece, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Qual du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, the difference mainly being a dissimilar choice of heroines. Instead of a bored housewife turned prostitute, we have a former actress turned agoraphobic who hasn't left her apartment in over year.

Additionally, here the heroine has no name, at least her moniker's never revealed. Instead she's listed as Woman in Apartment (Marin Ireland) on the credits. That's possibly why in many of the early shots her physiognomy is blocked out. She's lying in the bathtub with a white washcloth over her face. We view her from the back as she vigorously rides her exercise bike. Or we just see her eye as she stares out of her peephole to make sure she’s safe.

The camera then might swivel away and just focus on her toilet with its lid up. Or upon a dresser. Or on the TV set showcasing The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946) with Barbara Stanwyck breaking Lisabeth Scott's heart.

But when the Woman's image is eventually captured, her face is a blank mask until it's momentarily marred by a facial tic here and there. However, at intervals, she does come alive by necessity, when she has to enact certain scenarios to protect herself from direct interaction with the outer world. Ordering Chinese food is one such dilemma. The Woman leaves her money outside her triple-locked door before the delivery man arrives, and then makes believe she's frolicking with a boyfriend so she can’t open up to take in the food.

“You want me to leave it here?”
“Yeah, right. Right.”
“Thanks so much. Have a good night.”
“Okay. You, too.”
Or she might witness a violent crime on the street and, incapable of phoning for help, she'll voice out the police call to an empty room.

Or she might hear her neighbors making love, and then bring herself to a silent climax under her comforter.

But it's a one-woman-show, with her stage being a dreary apartment.

That's how it is until her toilet breaks down and starts flooding her abode and her downstairs neighbor's. Enter Wes (Paul Sparks), the plumber. To be more exact, a well-read plumber/saxophonist who is also a little damaged, one who will spout, “Fats Navarro is like Genet.”

But a more common early conversation will go:

Wes: It shouldn't take too long.
Woman: I'll be in the kitchen.
Wes: Have some bologna.
So can an eventually functioning toilet lead to two flawed souls beings falling into a functioning relationship, and can Woman ever leave her apartment to watch her beau of sorts let loose on his sax at a jazz club?

With a sterling performance by Marin, masterly direction, and award-worthy cinematography by Ryan Samul, Sparrows Dance convincingly captures the agony of living in a world that is sometimes too frightening to deal with on one's own.

(By the way, the title stems from the notion that a group of sparrows united can battle away a hawk attacking their nests.)

(Available on VOD, iTunes, and other demand platforms.) - Brandon Judell


Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Theatre into Film" and "The Arts in New York City" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village, the New York Daily NewsSoho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.