Bird People is a series of misconnections.
After a blissful prologue paying homage to Wings of Desire, Pascale Ferran’s fourth feature listlessly morphs into a bizarre confluence of realism and magicalism. The film is a textbook example of ambition undercut by tonal and pacing inconsistency.
Divided into two chapters, Bird People leads with Gary (Josh Charles), a Bay Area businessman ready to “leave everything behind,” as he proclaims. Ridden with anxiety, Gary knows he needs to leave his position at his growing Tech Company, his wife (after 18 years of courtship), his kids, and his current way of life. From one airport hotel to the next, he seems unable to experience joy or happiness.
This heightened mid-life crisis serves as a jarring juxtaposition between Audrey (Anais Demoustier), a Parisian chambermaid and college student whose future is still ahead of her. She too is dissatisfied with her place of work, a Hilton Hotel where Gary is hiding out. With the initial setup in place, it takes roughly 45-minutes until something of intrigue transpires. When Ferran finally reveals the “plot twist” up her sleeve, it’s water to the face — a daring narrative ploy taken entirely from left field, but daring is not synonymous with good, and the film swiftly devolves into a drab and dull mess.
When not floundering in fantasy, the movie finds its footing. Everything about Gary’s chapter works — the personal malaise, the romantic troubles, the professional vexation. Set and shot in Paris, Ferran presents a more melancholic look at the City of Lights than we’re used to seeing in movies. Replete with industrial grays and dreary lightning, Bird People’s milieu appears as somber as the people who inhabit it.
Formal flaws aside, it seems Ferran is trying to say something about our ever-evolving relationship with modern technology. After premiering at Cannes, Jordan Cronk at Fandor claimed it was an “allegory for our simultaneously plugged-in and disconnected lives, as well as our technology-dependent times.” As nicely as that reads, Bird People scarcely delivers on it. The most notable misfire is a scene in which Gary breaks up with his wife over a Skype video chat. She’s heartbroken and angry, as any functional human being would be in her unusual situation. But the anticlimactic conversation — even if a statement on our “plugged-in lives” — seemingly never ends.
At 15 minutes, the sluggish sequence is emblematic of Ferran’s film on the whole: interesting ideas expounded upon until they are no longer interesting.
The Good: Josh Charles is excellent.
The Bad: Central conceit squandered; unfortunate pacing.
On the Side: There seems to be a disconnect between the critics who saw the movie at Cannes (positive) and those at TIFF (not so).