If there is only one trait which distinguishes Bird Island from other contemporary documentaries, it is of the singular way in which the directorial duo of Maya Kosa and Sérgio da Costa bestow a fictiveness upon their work. It is obvious, even from the earliest moments, the influence of Robert Bresson: the way the directors connect separate shots via a character’s hand feeding the birds and the use of off-screen sound; later, abstracted shot-framings, static figures specifically situated within the mise-en-scene; and the voiceover narration, here from the film’s real-life focus, Antoine. Kosa and da Costa explore, through Antoine’s eyes, notions of tranquility, belonging, and the potential for spiritual healing, and they use these visual reference points to immediately establish a certain unromanticized attention paid to life’s natural course and duality. Antoine and his instructor, Paul, handle the duties of breeding rats and mice for the feeding of birds; meanwhile, the film’s two primary female subjects – Sandrine and Emilie – are responsible for the care and rehabilitation of the birds. This binary relation not only reveals the comingled notions of life and death (as do the Baroque and Late Romantic compositions of Telemann, Buxtehude and Rachmaninoff which contribute to the film’s sonic foundation) but also suggest a sort of mild, deadpan comedy of manners. But the life/death dichotomy is not merely reserved for the film’s more zoological concerns: Antoine gradually navigates existential bewilderment and melancholy, becoming more present and invigorated, and finally finds sought comfort with help of the birds. In the early stages of the film, we see Antoine walking the narrow gateway of the rehabilitation center, a shot which approximately repeats as Paul later leaves the facility for good. The circle of life repeats, the young and old traversing a shared path, and humans and animals find ways to not just coexist but to potentially heal each other’s wounds. Life goes on.
Published as part of Portland International Film Festival 2020 | Dispatch 3.