Sparrows Dance, a film far loftier in style than Noah Buschel’s prior The Missing Person, stars Marin Ireland as an agoraphobic former stage actress, credited only as Woman in Apartment. Her days consist largely of watching television, ordering Chinese food, using the bathroom, and going to sleep. Her sunken features and manic tics immediately announce her psychosis, and Buschel interestingly mirrors the monotony of her routine in his claustrophobic aesthetic. The filmmakers shoot in the Academy ratio, catching her in corners and trapping her within open doorways and angled corridors, always stressing that her sense of space is far from serene.
Yet the woman is left to open her many padlocks to a stranger once her toilet malfunctions, an invasion of relatively massive proportions. At which point, Wes (Paul Sparks), a full-time plumber and freelance saxophonist, walks into her life with an energy that’s agonizing to her hermetic sensibilities. Inquisitive, self-confident, and a bit too forward all at once, he proceeds to crash through each one of her vulnerabilities. When he asks her out, it almost feels robotic, as if he’s tried this line with many clients before her, so he’s visibly surprised when she says yes—though only on the condition that he’s okay with dining in at her apartment, of course.
The subtlety and sensitivity of the moment when Wes realizes that the woman is attracted to him and his confidence is revealed as a well-constructed façade becomes unmistakable through the filmmakers’ refusal to cut to close-up. Buschel instead bounces our focus between profile shots of his actors, positioned on opposite sides of the screen, along with their images reflected off a mirror in the background. In this highly abstracted study of human isolation and desire and cinema as space, it’s as if this would-be couple have been brought together as much by chance as by a director’s highly calculated sense of framing.
Buschel’s film is clearly indebted to the early works of Jean-Luc Godard—not their politics, but their meticulous use of primary colors, their exacting compositions, their evocation of ever-tenuous romantic dynamics, by the idea of locking a man and a woman in a room and watching them fall in love, and then out of love, and then back in love again. Wes wants to draw the woman out of her apartment, out of her prison, out of her comfort zone, but what’s holding her there is beyond his comprehension, which is to say, an abstraction. Buschel has funneled all his anxieties about small living and small filmmaking into his main character, as the woman appears most restrained by the limitations of cinema, by sets and budgets, itself.