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Bird People

Posted by martinteller on February 14, 2015

A film in two parts.  Before the first main thread begins, we experience a lengthy sequence where we travel in and around the Charles de Gaulle airport, hearing the thoughts of various people a la Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire.  Eventually we settle on Gary Newman (Josh Charles), a high-powered American representative of some sort of tech firm.  Gary is staying at the airport Hilton, in town to meet with a client before jetting off to Dubai to work on a project.  But Gary decides to skip his flight.  He holes up in the hotel, gripped by an existential need to throw away his old life: his job, his wife (Radha Mitchell) and his children.  Frankly, I was a bit annoyed with Gary’s half of the movie, although it was executed well.  It’s just harder for me to care about a character “throwing it all away” when he’s coming from a position of such privilege.  It’s difficult to identify with a dude who can afford to shirk all his responsibilities while staying at an undoubtedly expensive hotel and freely imbibing bottled water from an undoubtedly expensive minibar.

Fortunately, the movie gets a whole lot more interesting with the story of Audrey (Anaïs Demoustier), a maid at the hotel.  Audrey is vaguely dissatisfied with her life, and while cleaning a room she mutters, “I’m sick of this now”.  Suddenly the power goes out.  She wanders up to the roof, and — for reasons not stated but perhaps one can surmise — runs toward the ledge.  And then her life takes a very unusual turn.  This half of the film is simply wonderful, with a delightful element of magic realism that recalls Apichatpong Weerasethakul.  A sequence I’ll just call “Audrey Meets the Artist” is one of the most beautiful scenes I’ve witnessed in a while.

Both these stories explore ideas of freedom, escape, and stopping to smell the roses.  There is a theme of observing that mirrors the viewer’s voyeurism, but not in an invasive, Hitchcockian way.  It’s more about realizing the possibilities around you, looking beyond the narrow parameters that once defined your world.  It’s just too bad that one half is so much more vibrant and satisfying than the other.  Perhaps I’m too harsh on Newman (as a sidenote, if that’s an intentional play on “new man”, I’m annoyed by such a shallow attempt to be clever)  or perhaps Audrey’s story  wouldn’t feel quite so delightful without the ennui of the first half as counterpoint.  Still, I feel like I’m getting a 50% great and 50% “okay” movie.  Maybe more like 60/40.  Rating: Very Good (80)


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