How alienated does our work/family/play/social-media environment make us? What if we took the time to measure this alienation, what if we looked, really looked at what’s around us, what if we grew wings and flew high above it all, taking stock, seeing our lives from a distance with an uncritical but lucid eye?
Such is the premise of Pascale Ferran’s lovely and thoughtful “Bird People,” shown in the Un Certain Regard section at the recent Cannes Festival. Through vignettes on several lonely people whose paths cross–or don’t—in a bland Hilton hotel near Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport, through our daily grind and mindless to-ing and fro-ing through lives and careers that have long lost all meaning, the French auteur almost wordlessly poses these questions. Audrey (Anaïs Demoustier) is a chambermaid/university student who spends her days emptying trash cans, making beds and replacing the small bottles of shampoos or body lotions in guests’ bathrooms.
Only occasionally does she take time off from these automatic tasks for a quick smoke or a look at the view from the windows, mainly planes taking off or landing. Gary Newman (Josh Charles), a corporate man on his way to Dubai, comes to the realization that he’s done–no more jetting around the world, no more being husband and father, no more anything. Life must start anew, right now. Other characters cross those vast spaces, those hotel lobbies, those airport gates, in the rumble of their rolling suitcases, eyes never meeting, thoughts, such as our fragmented world allows, never meshing—linked, briefly, by a sparrow who flies under those high ceilings, a sparrow who may be one of the protagonists, reincarnated in a totally free, totally curious and interested living, breathing, aware little being.
“Bird People” is a highly original work by Pascale Ferran who had previously directed “Lady Chatterley” with an equally masterful and lyrical, albeit different, tone. Coming out of the theater after this almost out-of-body experience, viewers are guaranteed to look at streets, cars, trees, and perhaps even themselves with a different eye, at least temporarily.