Film Review: ‘The Bird’

Following a series of impressive supporting turns, French actress Sandrine Kiberlain is given centre stage in Yves Caumon’s The Bird (L’oiseau, 2011), a delicate, understated drama revolving around the life of a solitary young woman. Though slightly let down by some clumsy attempts at symbolism later in the film, Caumon’s expert framing and Kiberlain’s controlled, elegant performance make this by far the best arthouse outing of the week’s new releases.

Kiberlain plays Anne, a reclusive kitchen porter who lives alone in her poky, thinly-walled Bordeaux flat. Seemingly unwilling to open herself up to any of her co-workers – either male or female – Anne spends her evenings at the local cinema or procrastinating in her tiny home. However, following the arrival of a waif-like pigeon which crawls its way into her apartment, Anne begins to address the tragic past bereavement (no spoilers here) that has lead to her own self-exile from humanity.

There’s no arguing that Caumon’s The Bird takes slightly too long in confronting Anne’s repressed grief, with too much of the film’s initial third dedicated to an overly-subtle character portrait. We understand from the off that our protagonist has embraced the lifestyle of an introvert, but it’s not until we realise why that the drama stops being overtly coy and begins to be compelling. The introduction of Anne’s ex-partner Marc (Bruno Todeschini) is a crucial turning point, and helps to gently lift this sedate tale above and beyond the arthouse also-rans.

Caumon’s excellent cinematographic sense of control and restraint also serve to counter-act The Bird’s sometime dawdling narrative. His measured camera is almost always focused upon the melancholic, awkward figure of Kiberlain, assured and highly competent as Anne throughout in a rare leading role. The film’s major drawback, however, is its remarkably unsubtle use of metaphor and symbolism. Though undoubtedly giving one of the finest avian performances you’ll see all year, the introduction of Anne’s feathered friend is completely redundant as anything other than a simple plot device. Could it be that our placid protagonist sees something of herself in the withdraw creature? Yes, yes it could.

Pigeon-related qualms aside, both Caumon and Kiberlain deserves praise for what is an intriguing, deliberately slow-burning slice of French cinema. The Bird is likely to be lost under a blanket of high profile Gallic imports later in the year (with the arrival of both Michael Haneke’s Amour and Leos Carax’s Holy Motors), but this should take nothing away from what is a painstakingly-crafted, inward-gazing drama.

Daniel Green

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