Birdsong

"Very Good"

Birdsong Review


Though certainly not wanting for visual splendor, the most striking thing about Albert Serra's Birdsong, the 33-year-old Spanish filmmaker's detailing of the trip taken by the Three Wise Men to visit an infant named Jesus, is its embrace of the casual, both in tone and dialect. Always subjects of preposterous self-seriousness, both the birth of Christ and the voyage of the Magi are here seen with a noted absence of dramatic structure and are addressed with an honest humility.

Portrayed by Lluís Carbó, Lluís Serrat Batlle, and Lluís Serrat Masanellas, the three kings are first seen as a trio of passive stooges. When faced with the decision of whether to climb a mountain or not, they bicker and wade in the night, waiting for the lead to decide whether they can properly ascend. The next morning, one complains of the other sleeping on top of his arm all night. It is only a few moments before these exchanges that a woman, presumably Mary, appears on screen and decries those who would attempt to hurt her child, the son of God.

As the three trek towards Bethlehem, there is no sight of the chosen son and little seen of Mary and Joseph, both of whom seem incapable of doing anything besides playing with a baby lamb and complaining about the heat; a peak dramatic moment later involves the mother of our savior getting urinated on by the lamb. These exchanges, inelegant and happenstance at best, speak to the beguiling nature of Serra's unencumbered experiment. Of the dozen or so moments of dialogue that director allows, none carry the weight of holiness nor the sneer of a secular critique. In this way, Serra has stumbled onto something very fascinating: He has found a way to convey the importance of Jesus' birth to his characters without presuming that his work is of similarly great importance.

Of course, the three men finally arrive at the feet of Mary, offer their gifts and, in one of the few scenes that incorporates music, praise the young lord. The end of their journey is found in the woods where one speaks of an angel he once saw and another questions the meaning of a dream where goats devour their hunters. Filmed elegantly in black and white, Serra's shots suggest the long-take experiments of Huillet/Straub with intimations towards giants like Sokurov and Dreyer, but his approach in tone and mood is all his own.

As we find ourselves still tending the lashings of The Passion of the Christ, one can't help but note the differences in handling of popular scripture between Serra's strange object and Mel Gibson's rusted parable. Working outside the Hollywood biosphere, not to mention only being shown in extremely select markets, the Spanish director is allowed to indulge in two major assets that Gibson shunned: silence and patience. Despite its lack of cinematic grandstanding, Serra's film is ultimately a work of faith that treats the tenants of its story with as much respect as it treats the medium in which it operates.

Aka El cant dels ocells.



Birdsong

Facts and Figures

Run time: 165 mins

In Theaters: Sunday 22nd April 2012

Production compaines: Working Title Television Production, NBC Universal Television

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

IMDB: 7.4 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Albert Serra

Producer: Luis Miñarro, Montse Triola

Starring: as Stephen Wraysford, as Isabelle, as Captain Gray, as Private Brennan, as Private Tipper, as Captain Michael Weir, as Jack Firebrace

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