Ethan Hawke takes on one of his most challenging roles to date with Born To Be Blue, a look into the life of famed (and troubled) jazz trumpeter Chet Baker. Also known as for his mesmeric and smooth vocal stylings, Baker was one of the leaders of the West Coast jazz scene, and the film spotlights a pivotal moment of his comeback in the 1960s.
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.
Director Giuseppe Tornatore (Cinema Paradiso, Malena) is obsessed with love and time’s bittersweet relationship and, in his best moments, he’s dished out several cinematic gems (Cinema Paradiso, Malena, The Legend of 1900, and the underrated The Star Maker). In our youth, the tides of passion crashing on our shores, but as the years exact their devastating toll, much of that fire is extinguished. But what happens if that flame visits us in autumn?
With The Best Offer, Tornatore introduces us to Virgil Oldman (Geoffrey Rush), an art auctioneer who can spot a masterpiece and a forgery within moments. High brow culture and refinement may sustain our protagonist, but human contact is far from his reach. Antisocial and arrogant by nature, Virgil’s only bedfellow is the artwork he’s collected or oftentimes swindled throughout his lifetime.
Claire Ibbetsen (Sylvia Hoek) is a beautiful shut-in whose sole contact to the outside world is her housekeeper. Both her parents are dead, and her family’s estate contains priceless artwork and collectibles that are being valuated by Virgil. During their first several encounters, she’s a phantom in Virgil’s hermetically sealed world, a voice he can faintly hear within the property’s walls. Although they’re both natural introverts, Claire’s insistence on not being seen in person makes Virgil look like the life of the party.
Eventually their mysterious and awkward dance leads to a temporary conjoining of souls, and when two lonely people find each other, a happily every after possibility arises. Since this is a Tornatore film, we know that every shared ache, forlorn kiss, and longing embrace is tempered with a bracing sense of reality, and The Best Offer doesn’t shy away from heartache.
Even though he’s spent years dining alone at the fanciest restaurants, Virgil prefers the company of the female portraits which adorn his meticulously crafted domicile. Sitting amidst their presence, these works of art are, before he meets Claire, his intimates. Workshop owner Robert (Jim Sturgess) may be Virgil’s sole friend, and the pair collaborate on putting together a piece of machinery that, when finally put together, will dramatically increase their financial well-being. The pieces to this machine, however, were discovered at Claire’s home, and whether or not Virgil will divulge his discovery to the woman he’s grown to love is one of the film’s greatest mysteries.
Virgil’s gradual seduction of Claire gives him a window to another life. He’s spent years collaborating with struggling artist Billy Whistler (Donald Sutherland in a small but deliciously played role) to have an upper hand at auction bidders. Since he knows the true value of each piece, Virgil employs Billy to bid on select items that he can resell at a significant profit.
But, as Tornatore’s tale suggests, Virgil doesn’t know the real price of human relationships. Like T.S. Eliot’s emotionally scarred J. Alfred Prufrock, he has no idea how to proceed. He holds court at his auctions, but dealing with women on a romantic level is his Achilles heel. When circumstance throws him a curve ball, Virgil must choose if his new love is the real deal or, like many of his findings, a complete forgery.
Tornatore mixes romantic melodrama and thriller elements into The Best Offer, as he and cinematographer Fabio Zamarion weave a spellbinding, visual portrait of a man whose most treasured work of art exists right before his eyes. The film’s slow yet steady pace enables us to revel in Virgil’s compromised universe for 130 minutes, and if you’re a fan of leisurely unraveled mysterious the film’s length won’t be a deterrent.
The Best Offer ranks among Giuseppe Tornatore’s finest work, and even if Virgil continues to confuse art with true love, it’s an easily forgivable flaw, especially since he’s joined the land of the living.
DVD special features: Unfortunately, The Best Offer (IFC Films, Rated R, 131 minutes) only contains the film’s trailer. The movie is a must see, however, if you’re a mystery/suspense fan.