The Bird Can't Fly



San Sebastian Film Festival

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain -- "The Bird Can't Fly," an oddly charming South-African/Dutch co-production, offers Barbara Hershey -- unseen in a leading role since Ray Lawrence's "Lantana" six years ago -- the opportunity to prove she remains an incomparable actress. She is superb in the role of Melody, a South African cook who returns to her home town for the funeral of her only daughter, killed in an accident.

With the help of stunning production design and an obvious talent for rhythm and storytelling, South African novelist Threes Anna pulls off quite an impressive directorial debut. Theatrical prospects are limited though. While the film is shot in English, apart from Hershey the cast is composed of emerging actors. The story is also slow and the overall atmosphere contemplative.

The whole film is set in the village, an imaginary place called Fairlands, half-buried in the desert. The amazing set, some 20 miles out of Cape Town, is turned by designer Birrie Le Roux into a diamond-mining ghost town in which only a few inhabitants remain alongside wild ostriches. Among them, a gang of children run through the town like wild dogs led by River, who happens to be Melody's grandson, whose very existence she is only now made aware.

A strange relationship blossoms between granny and the kid, a mix of mutual respect and a dose of hostility. How the two will get to know each other and build --or not -- an affectionate relationship is the key question in the story. Another secret, that of the boy's father, Scoop, will emerge.

The natural location, enhanced by the imaginative production design, brings a lot of charm and poetry to this intriguing story. But its minimalism is unable to keep the audience alert throughout the all too brief running time.

Hershey, old enough to play a grandmother but in a stunning physical shape that denies this fact, is deliberately made to look unglamorous. While rather unlikable at first, she manages to change an audience's mind about Melody several times.

As part of the Zabaltegi (Open Zone) section of the San Sebastian Film Festival, the film competes for the Altadis-New Directors award.

Borderline Prods., 24fps features, IMG Prods. (PTY)
Writer/director: Threes Anna
Producers: Threes Anna, Tom Maguire, Joel Phiri, Anton Scholten
Director of photography: Guido van Gennep
Production designer: Birrie Le Roux
Costume designer: Diana Cilliers
Music: Paul Hepker, Mark Kilian
Editor: Wouter Jansen
Melody: Barbara Hershey
River: Yusuf Davids
Scoop: Tony Kgoroge
Stone: John Kani
Running time -- 82 minutes
No MPAA rating