Gravelly ex-con Simon (Carradine) arrives back in Iceland, his mother’s homeland, immediately arousing suspicion from a yappy smalltown cop and sexual fever from the entire female populace. Vague memories of fighting and philandering are stirred within him and the townspeople, but now he targets only himself, muttering a suicide note into his tape recorder while resting from brief, noble attempts to right a few civic wrongs between that same yappy cop and the beautiful artiste who lives in the hills.
Naturally, it all goes tragically wrong: Simon and the strongly independent Dua (Vilhjálmsdóttir) are forced on the run by the scheming bobby. Taking with them only a rare and expensive falcon, Simon’s fledgling hopes for salvation and Dua’s hippie sensibilities, they flee to Germany where real life threatens to impose itself on their relationship. He likes money and she has a tendency to dispose of it in spontaneous acts of philanthropy. She likes him but doesn’t realise he may be her father. He wants to sell the bird, and she doesn’t.
The bird is, of course, a great big falcon metaphor. Several, in fact: referred to explicitly as a ‘jail bird’ and unable now to survive in the outside world, it is also the indefinable beauty of a soul, a relationship or understanding, an unspeakable truth to be compromised by being studied or held too closely. No clumsy symbolism, perhaps, but nothing new either, and that is the underlying problem with this shadow of a movie.
The Icelandic townsfolk are taken with Simon’s Americanness, and so is director Fridriksson. The film borrows the tone of a well-intentioned US indie; Carradine walks tall amongst the small-town people whose awestruck infatuations Fridriksson pokes fun at, but can’t help but succumb to himself. Whilst carrying out his instructions with charisma and some gravity, Carradine is restricted by the character’s archetypal superficiality: Simon has a ‘rare aura’, Dua coos at one point, but it’s an aura very much trapped behind the screen. Dua, too, is an archetype, the arty kook, her only ‘contradiction’ being her faith in astrology. Our yapping cop is an insecure, dog-killing, rookie-bullying rapist: the stock character boxes are ticked and he never steps outside them.
Even using such broad strokes, Fridriksson could have created a more compelling fable. The characters’ responses to their crumbling world are lukewarm rather than understated, not so much subtle as absent altogether. When death and destruction knock them down, they dust themselves off and get on with contriving the next touching shared moment. Whilst the grimy urban confusion of Hamburg successfully expresses Simon’s assumed inner world late on in the film, Iceland is represented through a series of shabbily-framed, plain vistas, and the effort it must have taken to make that country’s landscape look so ordinary is reflected in the lack of emotional resonance within the two leads.
That said, Carradine and Falcons rumble along in an indefinably watchable way: perhaps best described as the BBC2 matinee feeling. That might be the best way to experience it: hold on for half a century then settle in to watch it with your lunch and a nice cup of tea.