Bird Atlas


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Bird Atlas
"There’s a dryness to this comedic drama which occasionally makes it drag, but Omerzu breaks with it to great effect in places, when he’s ready to present contrasting scenes of highly emotive, character-driven drama." | Photo: Courtesy of Glasgow Film Festival

Going through his father’s phone, Martin (Martin Pechlat) scoffs at the numbers listed under bird names. Are these sex workers or mistresses? What has his father been up to? He dials some of them to try and find out. His excuse for inspecting the phone is that he’s trying to get himself up to date as acting head of electronics manufacturing company Aron, but his display of cruelty, whilst his father lies in a hospital bed, illustrates the rot at the heart of the family, matched by troubles within the company itself.

Despite his achievement in building the company up, Ivo (Miroslav Donutil) has been in poor health for a while and has not been successfully staying on top of everything. He has clung on because he doesn’t believe that his children are fit to inherit the role, and one can see why – yet it’s on his watch that, Martin discovers, the company has accrued debts of Kč14 million (around £473,000 at the time of writing). Money has apparently been embezzled. An investigation begins, and suspicion falls on Marie (Alena Mihulova), the secretary whom Ivo thought of as his most dependable ally.

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What could make a woman like her do something like that? She seems more sober and responsible than anyone in Ivo’s family, but there’s no accounting for love. Every now and again we cut away from the Czech corporate world of glass and metal and polished stone, to grainy footage of soldiers trekking through a desert landscape, as Marie longs for the object of her love to come home. It’s the only part of the film in which any of the characters shows real concern for somebody else, but in this dark satire, even this cannot be trusted. Director/co-writer Olmo Omerzu packs in one twist after another, and although not all of these are easy to believe, overall there’s plenty for fans of such material to chew on.

Commenting on all this, and sometimes urgently trying to communicate with Ivo, who can’t understand them, are various birds who live in the trees outside the hospital and sometimes appear elsewhere. If you know anything about bird calls, you’ll find this a confusing experience, much like watching Downfall parodies if one speaks German, but it’s still an idea with some merit. They chatter about the country’s economic fortunes and what’s happening on the stock market in a manner which offer grim laughs to Czech viewers. It reminds us that heads of industry don’t necessarily have brilliant insight not shared by the masses (Maria seems to understand Aron at least as well as her bosses do) and it keeps us alert to the bigger picture which Ivo and his prospective heirs, tightly focused on the specifics of their company’s problems, too easily forget.

There’s a dryness to this comedic drama which occasionally makes it drag, but Omerzu breaks with it to great effect in places, when he’s ready to present contrasting scenes of highly emotive, character-driven drama. Towards the end, a spectacularly bitter birthday party is one of the highlights of the film. It gives Donutil the chance to show viewers who are new to his work just what he’s capable of, bringing the full weight of his experience as an actor to bear whilst his character puts the next generation in its place. Shifts in perspective created by a changing culture are nicely delineated without too much reliance on stereotypes, but in a family where business comes first, forgiveness is as rare as hen’s teeth.

Reviewed on: 04 Mar 2022
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Bird Atlas packshot
An ageing proprietor of a technology company has dedicated his whole life to his work, so it comes as a big blow when he discovers that payments to suppliers have been held up for months. But what can he do when the firm’s accountant is nowhere to be seen?

Director: Olmo Omerzu

Writer: Olmo Omerzu, Petr Pýcha

Starring: Miroslav Donutil, Alena Mihulová, Martin Pechlát, Eliska Krenková, Voytek Kotek

Year: 2021

Runtime: 92 minutes

Country: Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovakia

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