Bird Island

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Bird Island
"Some patience is required but the general calm and tranquillity of the film becomes part of its charm." | Photo: Close-Up Film

This thoughtful second feature by Maya Kosa and Sergio Costa is a leisurely but approachable consideration of a young man's rehabilitation after cancer treatment that has left him suffering from ongoing exhaustion. It blends documentary and subtle fiction to good effect - although you'd be hard pressed to realise it wasn't a straightforward, if odd documentary, if you weren't aware it was a hybrid going in.

We meet Antonin - played by an actor - a not long after he has taken a job at the Ornithological Rehabilitation Centre in Genthod, Geneva. There, all birds great and small are treated before releasing them back into the wild. Working alongside older employee Paul (one of two people the film is dedicated to the memory of and like all the other workers here apparently playing a version of himself), we watch Antonin's watchfulness as he gradually learns the ropes - including the breeding and killing of mice and rats for the birds of prey.

Copy picture

This latter element of the film includes dissection - and there are also several scenes in which a vet is seen treating the birds' wounds, which are likely to put off animal lovers and the squeamish. Paul has a matter-of-fact approach that seems all the more down to earth when compared to Antonin's almost dreamy engagement with the job - his no-nonsense description of the two ways to kill a rat being a case in point. Kosa and Costa include some surreal moments - such as Antonin asleep on one of the sanctuary's benches or collapsing suddenly - and have an eye for a haunting image, including using a heat camera the slow fade out of a dead rodent.

Some patience is required but the general calm and tranquillity of the film becomes part of its charm. What also marks it out from other examples of this sort of 'slow cinema' is the voice-over that is provided by Antonin, based, apparently, on diaries the actor kept while the film was being shot. This element allows the film to step outside the day-to-day work of the centre and into more philosophical considerations of the birds and the modern world, also lending it an elegiac tone.

Although the link between human and bird rehabilitation is an obvious one, Kosa and Costa don't try to labour the point, digging around instead at the nature of life and death - why, you might wonder is the owl worth more than the mouse? - and the way that situations can flip, so that the victim becomes the predator.

Reviewed on: 01 Sep 2019
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Bird Island packshot
After a long period of isolation, Antonin, a young man suffering from persisting exhaustion, rediscovers the world at a rehabilitation centre for birds.

Director: Sergio Da Costa, Maya Kosa

Writer: Sergio Da Costa, Maya Kosa

Starring: Emilie Bréthaut, Antonin Ivanidze, Paul Sauteur, Emilie Bréthaut, Antonin Ivanidze, Paul Sauteur

Year: 2019

Runtime: 60 minutes

Country: Switzerland

Festivals:

SSFF 2019

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