The Bird (L'oiseau): Venice Film Review

Patient character-study treads a fine line between quietness and tedium

Sandrine Kiberlain stars in this French drama from writer-director Yves Caumon but it's a pigeon that gets all the attention.


Six-time César nominee Sandrine Kiberlain'sprecise performance as a grief-numbed introvert is the main draw in The Bird (L'oiseau), a modestly rewarding third feature from writer-director Yves Caumon. Premiering in Venice's Orizzonti sidebar, this firmly female-focused, small-scale drama should yield respectable returns at domestic box offices but abroad looks a festivals-only proposition.

The strikingly tall and angular Kiberlain is seldom off-screen for long as Anne, a solitary woman in her early 40s, living very quietly in her Bordeaux apartment. A bespectacled bookworm, she's a lady of few words. Indeed, for the first 10 minutes of the movie she has no dialogue at all. And when she does speak, her utterances tend to be fleeting and quiet. Clearly intelligent -- she's conscientiously learning Portuguese -- she works in a repetitive food preparation job in a restaurant kitchen, where she has reasonably friendly relations with her colleagues. But she is a little frosty when charming, good-looking chef Raphaël (Clément Sibony) makes persistent romantic advances.

PHOTOS: The Scene at the Venice Film Festival 2011

Caumon parcels out information with careful frugality. Almost a full reel elapses before we even the protagonist's name is divulged. It gradually emerges that Anne has had a young son, now deceased, and that this tragedy hastened her break-up with husband Marc (Bruno Todeschini). Anne has retreated into a life of simplicity and reserve, from which she is only jolted when a pigeon somehow gets stuck behind a wall of her flat and she's driven to distraction by its audible flutterings. Taking a hammer to the plaster, Anne liberates the bird, who becomes in effect semi-domesticated, not quite a pet, but rather an inquisitive feathered friend who inadvertently helps Anne emerge from her prolonged mourning.

Though it deals with highly emotive subject matter, The Bird avoids sentimentality by taking a distanced, measured approach. Caumon allows Kiberlain the space to explore a character whose carefully maintained reserve, almost frigidity, manages to be intriguing rather than irritating. Her behavior does occasionally veer into the bafflingly oddball, but this freckled, blonde, handsomely bony near-recluse retains our interested sympathy. Her instinctive mask of self-sufficiency drops most dramatically during a visit to the cinema, when she reacts tearfully to Kenji Mizoguchi's classic study of feminine fortitude, The Life of Oharu (1952) before picking up a fellow cinemagoer (Serge Riaboukine) for what turns out to be an evening of less than torrid passion, an example of Caumon's delicately dry humor.

Anne is evidently much more at ease with her uninvited avian visitor, played by three birds, each of them notably well wrangled. Scenes in which the pigeon investigates Anne's disorderly living quarters have an amusing lightness, which comes as welcome relief after the slow-moving, low-key sequences which generally predominate. That said, this particular pigeon seems miraculously well house-trained, flapping quite freely around the place for days without leaving a single visible deposit.

Venue: Venice Film Festival (Orizzonti)
Production company: Blue Monday Productions
Cast: Sandrine Kiberlain, Clément Sibony, Bruno Todeschini, Serge Riaboukine
Director/screenwriter: Yves Caumon
Producers: Bertrand Gore, Nathalie Mesuret
Director of photography: Céline Bozon
Production designer: Sophie Reynaud-Malouf
Costume designer: Marie Le Garrec
Music: Thierry Machuel
Editor: Sylvie Fauthoux
Sales: Les Films du Losange, Paris
No rating, 94 minutes

comments powered by Disqus