Bird People (2014)

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“How does it go in fairy tales?”

In the Western world, among other geographic locations, quitting is considered an indecisive and thoughtless act of cowardice. You decided to do this, so how can you just up and leave? Are you quitting because this is too hard, because you know you’re not good enough? They are reasonably fair assumptions, but also out of context. There’s a strange, complex juxtaposition to these kinds of circumstances. Finally quit a bad habit such as smoking and you’re a hero, the spitting image of renewed strength and life. Give up on a job that has you stressed, overworked, unhappy and unfulfilled, all symptoms as bad for your mental and physical health as a pack a day, and you’re labeled a quitter. Bird People is a marriage of French and American cinema, creating a unique, at times scattered film which tries to decipher those questions through patience and observance. It never soars, instead opting to sit on the windowsill and just watch. Something about it, imperfections and all, managed to stay with me.

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The opening to this film is fairly dull and tedious, yet not without meaning, so just try to get through it. I promise you it gets better. That first scene is a compilation of travel shots. People coming and going, scurrying about here and there. Many will think it’s meaningless, as did I. The truth is that it’s a setup and a summary of the story to unfold. Bird People, on its most basic levels, is a film about transitions and movements, both with our bodies and with our life choices. Audrey Cazumet (the lovely and well-traveled newcomer Anaïs Demoustier) is a maid working at an airport Hilton hotel located outside the Arrondissements of Paris. Gary Newman (Josh Charles) is a Silicon Valley engineer visiting on business. They are two similar people in terms of the upcoming decisions they each must make. Audrey is in limbo from University, unsure if she should go back or tell her father she left. Gary is stressed to the point that a midnight panic attack forces him to the room’s window for a breath of fresh air. They are the bird people, but at this point they’re unwilling to spread their wings.

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Audrey and Gary take very different routes to their self-actualization that directly reflect their ethnic and social backgrounds. I wont say her’s because it’s so refreshingly bold and brazenly distinct. I really haven’t seen anything like it before. As for Gary and his straightforward, uncomplicated American point of view, he calls and resigns from his job. Then through Skype he tells his wife that he is leaving her and their children with no remorse. It’s a devastating revelation for her, to realize she’s being abandoned not for a new lover, but for no one. It gave me the chills. And not once did I dislike or disapprove of the lead characters’ actions. How can you? Sure it’s at the cost of others, but to see people finally free and happy is extremely hard to condemn.

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I’ve always been a fan of Josh Charles. He doesn’t scream leading man material, but he knows his craft and utilizes the skill set that he’s honed over the course of his career. Demoustier is a whimsical charmer and an understated beauty who shines here. I really hope this gets her the exposure she deserves. Director Pascale Ferran is an outstanding artist, but I’m not sure she is a great filmmaker. There’s a big difference between the two. Bird People is loose in its narrative and fails to connect the lead characters throughout the film, despite that being the ending’s foregone intention. Where it does succeed is in the small, intimate moments where we get to know these people. Bird People, like a songbird, sings beautifully all while staying grounded. The film can be boiled down to a song by Josh Ritter called Lark with its refrain saying, “I am assured yes, I am assured yes. I am assured that peace will come to me. A peace that can yes, surpass the speed yes. Of my understanding and my need.” I’m not sure why, but I haven’t been able to dislodge the movie from my head.

“I feel like a lump of sugar dissolving at the bottom of a cup.”

Rating: 4 out of 5

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