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IFFR 2023 Tiger Competition

Review: Birdland


- 12 years after On the Edge, Leïla Kilani is returning with a second fiction feature, a fearless, unpredictable film, both realist and lyrical, with revolutionary undertones

Review: Birdland

"A degenerate, unbridled dynasty, like a crazy bus hurtling around invisible bends. Every bend leads to another, ad infinitum." It’s chaos at the home of the Bechtani family who are gathered together for a wedding which they’re using as a pretext for the 22 heirs to sign off the sale of their sweeping property, La Mansouria, on the hills of Tanger, a fief encompassing a forest which is home to storks and a shanty town which has been installed there for decades. Such is the context of the story in Birdland, unveiled in the IFFR’s Tiger competition, a tumultuous and rich second fiction feature film marking the surprising and radical comeback of Morocco’s Leila Kilani following On the Edge [+see also:
film profile
, which was discovered in the 2011 Directors’ Fortnight.

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"I’m surrounded by birds and coincidences… Am I normal? No. I’m speaking to you, my invisible friend, my follower". The protagonist of the story, Lina (Ifham Mathet), who’s 13 years old and boasts 24,700 followers on social media (where she uploads live videos and chats under the pseudonym of Cicogna nera [Black Stork]), has been selectively mute since the accidental death of her mother. Passionate about ornithology like her father, grieving widower Anis (Mustafa Shimdat), the teen pushes back against her family’s desire to sell La Mansouria, an operation orchestrated by her grandmother Amina (Bahia Boutia El Oumani), a ferociously proud woman from a privileged social class whom Lina nicknames The Marshall. A property developer is already sniffing around, ready to launch into major works and bulldoze the nearby shanty town on the other side of the forest, below the family villa which is frozen in time with its various works of art and stuffed birds. But the signature of all 22 heirs is required and Anis rebels, announcing that he’s going to donate his share to an endowment (in aid of a pious or a more widely beneficial act). It’s a decision which gives rise to chaos, arguments in the villa in the midst of wedding preparations, and forest fires which set tempers flaring in the shanty town and trap young maid Chinwiya (Ikram Layachi) between a rock and a hard place when it comes to social classes… All under Lina’s phone-camera eye and through the prism of her inner voice.

Advancing with great intensity over the course of three days (one day to set the scene, then the beginning of the war, and finally the metamorphosis), this microcosmic family-focused yarn clearly reflects the underlying revolutionary process. It’s a mirror which Leïla Kilani holds up in a frenzied, syncopated, nigh-on "Godardian" style in a tangle of voice-overs, sequences depicting nature (fabulous swarms of storks, trees, countless animals, night-time shots in the forest using thermal cameras, etc.), fires to be extinguished, ash rain, scores being settled in all areas of the villa, flashbacks which are more or less dreamlike, wedding rituals, relationships between different ages and social classes, love, betrayal, etc. As it tries its best to reconcile its dazzling visual form to its turbulent backdrop, Birdland takes plenty of risks and explores a form of radicality which is impetuous, but which never tries to sidestep the bumps of confusion inherent to its being. It’s a freedom experiment carried out by a director who isn’t afraid of anything.

Birdland is produced by Socco Chico Films and DKB (who are also steering international sales).

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(Translated from French)

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