Bird People: In the great interconnected "hub"
by Fabien Lemercier
- CANNES 2014: Pascale Ferran creates an astonishing philosophical and fantastic tale on alienation in the modern world and the dissolution of mankind
Visionaries are those who could have thought that the rare (three feature films in 20 years) Pascale Ferran would one day dive into a film in which special effects play a decisive role. However, that has now been achieved with Bird People [+see also:
interview: Pascale Ferran
film profile], a remarkably unique film of broad intellectual ambition, presented in the Certain Regard section of the 67th Cannes International Film Festival. Because we are talking about nothing less than trying to describe the hub of the urban and interconnected modern world, a frenzied mankind that can’t catch its breath, walled up in communication via screens, dumping its waste on an army of behind-the-scenes cleaners keeping their head above water economically in the metropolis which they traverse night and day, just like the soldiers of the globalised companies cross the planet by plane. A very strange world from a bird’s point of view.
Opening with a captivating scene on a train in the Parisian suburbs, in which the passengers’ thoughts echo in voice-over, tangled with their telephone conversations and with the music that some are listening to in their headphones, Bird People sets the polyphonic tone of its wandering and neo-technological Tower of Babel approach which is today human diversity. Among the passengers, Audrey (Anaïs Desmoustier) is on her way to work as a cleaning lady in the Hilton at Charles-de-Gaulle airport, a job that allows her to continue her studies. For his part, Gary Newman (Josh Charles) disembarks from his plane from California and settles into the same hotel before going to Paris for an important business meeting on an ongoing project which should take him the following day to Dubai. All the while, Audrey pushes her trolley through the corridors and cleans rooms. But the following night, Josh has a panic attack and decides to give it all up, job and family. He moves into the hotel and by phone settles his resignation (selling his shares) with his business partners and confronts his wife, ending 18 years of marriage via a long argument over Skype. Obviously everyone tries, vehemently, to discourage him and to know the reasons for his impulsive plan. "Tell them that I’ve had an accident", "I can’t go on like this", "sometimes, people change", "I can’t bear this state of permanent warfare anymore": is what Gary answers. As for Audrey, she continues to clean methodically, under pressure from the management, up until an extraordinary phenomenon which tips her into another dimension: she turns into a sparrow.
It’s to the sounds of Space Oddity by David Bowie that our sparrow flies at night over the lights of the airport zone. But the animal (with the voice-over of the young woman discovering her new powers) also ventures into the hotel, which Audrey rediscovers with a different set of eyes. So many brilliantly successful scenes (in spite of some lengthy ones) in technical and visual terms, and in total (and risky) contrast with the first part of the film (divided into two chapters by the names of the two characters). A perspective from above and a different point of view on human existence which will change Audrey’s life when she returns to her earthly body.
With Bird People, Pascale Ferran creates a changing film about a humanity which is also changing, increasingly subject to the rhythm of machines. An extremely sophisticated feature film whose concept of hybridity and narrative interactions will nonetheless certainly unsettle a few.
(Translated from French)