DVD Review: ‘Birds, Orphans and Fools’


There could be an argument for three being the most cinematic of numbers. Some would argue two, others one, but it surely has to be three; it’s better than two because it simply isn’t about unity but disunity in flux: pure dramatic tension that constantly seems ready to spill out of control but never really does. Inherent inside of the trio set is tension, claustrophobia (internal or external), displacement and the continued threat of isolation onset or offset by sex: the proverbial elephant in the corner. These are the elements of the film les trois camarades which pulsate through all treble cinema, whether they be Bande à Part, Cul­de­sac, Knife in the Water, American Buffalo and, of course, Jules et Jim.

Birds, Orphans and Fools, the third film from Slovak director Juraj Jakubisko, began shooting just after the Soviet invasion in 1968 and was screened at the Czechoslovak film week in Sorrento. However, it was not shown in Czechoslovakia until 1990, when it won the FIPRESCI award at the Karlovy Vary Festival. Written by Jakubisko together with Czech writer Karol Sidon, it differs from more well-known Czech New Wave films such as Věra Chytilová’s Daisies, Miloš Forman’s The Fireman’s Ball and Jiří Menzel’s Closely Observed Trains. Yorick, Martha and Ondre are examples of an idyllic pastoral fever dream of escape from reality that pushes people toward infantilisation as insulation from the reality that surrounds you within a horrific statement of forced reality.

They are three orphans made so by an unnamed war. They survive by fulfilling their existence with a childish philosophy where they reside within joy and love, which they believe will coat them with the protection of an anti-­reality bubble: more than once in reaction to their surroundings they scream “Life is beautiful!” (Roberto Benigni has definitely seen this film). They exist within a bombed out church in the middle of the city, sharing this found space are a collection of birds. Like my previous example of cinema of the Three, this Eden will be snatched away by tensions: personal, sexual and spatially. Jakubisko brings to the boil – without ever overcooking – a fever dream of surreal operatic post­political allegory that fuses Makavejev with his walk the thin line of anti­-Nationalist snubbing, Pasolini’s passive sexual undercurrents and of course a Shakespearean pastoral dance of sex, imagination and dream space.

We can also see a kinship to other troubled poets of damaged regions, most definitely Emir Kusturica and his Palme d’Or-winning Underground. Cinema is also a home to outsiders (both the watching and the watched) seeking answers that will never come, and for that it’s known as the great empathy machine. It gives us the truth that is self evident of the beautiful idea that all humanity is universal, we live not in a village; we are citizens of the world. Mark Cousins’ calls this a borderless cinema, he claims that the ‘other’ (whether they be filmmakers, freaks and queers: the people that Travis Bickle hated) is the only valuable world-view because we are all others, all freaks, all queers. Everywhere is the centre of the universe, and that is the essence of cinema like Birds, Orphans and Fools; and why it must be rediscovered.

D.W. Mault