Bird People (IFC Films, 128 minutes) is that rare film that, if you’re open to discovery, may temporarily put you in a different state of mind. Though it’s a spiritual cousin to the frenetic, surrealistic visions of Birdman, Bird People takes on an entirely different route, inviting viewers to fly (and not jump) through that open window.
Gary (Josh Charles) is a Silicon Valley engineer who’s spending a quick business trip to Paris. On the next morning he’ll be on a flight to Dubai, and his business partners and clients expect their collaboration to run without a hitch.
Audrey (Anaïs Demoustier) is on the other end of the salary food chain, as she spends her days as a chambermaid at the Hyatt airport hotel that temporarily houses Gary. Though traveling is Gary’s price of doing business, Audrey leads the more inquisitive life. Spending the evenings with the lights off, she stares outside her apartment balcony, eagerly watching her neighbors and peeking into their lives. Though absolutely voyeuristic, Audrey’s investigations originate from a sheer empathy for humanity.
Gary’s on the opposite side of the spectrum, thanks to his crumbling marriage (Radha Mitchell plays his wife). At wit’s end, making that plane and being a respectable family and co-worker temporarily takes second place to his own happiness, and like the proverbial bird in flight, he takes an entirely different direction for parts unknown.
Cesar award winning filmmaker Pascale Ferran is blessed with a distinct visual eye, as she and cinematographer Julien Hirsch take us on a literally soaring journey through France during the narrative’s second half. The real film’s true guts, however, lie in Ferran’s insistence on gradually growing her narrative even at the expense of the viewers’ patience.
Since Gary feels emotionally suffocated, even amidst the beauties of Paris, we see his life sectioned off into lonely dinners or having an early morning smoke with the hotel’s concierge (Roschdy Zem). A seemingly never ending argument between Gary and his wife over Skype, under the hands of lesser filmmaker, would have been drastically cut down to trim the movie’s running time. Instead, Ferran shows the couple’s communication breakdown in all its hopeless ugliness.
Audrey’s own relationship with Paris is rooted in a more evocative and romantic light. Amidst her lonely days and her job’s tiresome activities, Audrey is still hungry for new experiences and stories. She is young and, in comparison to Gary’s self-extrication from responsibility, absolutely fearless.
A healthy portion of the story centers on a sparrow, which leads to Bird People’s more virtuosic moments. Whether or not Gary and Audrey meet through this sparrow or from sheer circumstance is a spoiler I won’t share, but following the protagonists’ respective paths leads to a subtly uplifting climax.
Ferran starts her story, which she co-wrote with Guillaume Bréaud, on a train, enabling us to listen to various passengers’ inner thoughts. Audrey sees a sparrow perch on the window and smiles at its presence, possibly wishing for a few wings of her own. This world may often humble her beyond measure, but she’s still learning (and willing) to fly. Saddled in a middle-age malaise, an all too weary Gary may be grounded for life. But this is the City of Lights – all he needs to do is keep his eye on the sparrow.
If sublime, intricately detailed stories are your cup of tea, Bird People, now out on DVD, is worth a look. Unfortunately, the special features only come with a trailer. A commentary from the cast and crew or at least a featurette on the making of this sublime film would have been welcome. But – considering the movie is pretty gosh darn excellent – that’s just nitpicking.