“I don’t know what could be the excuse for keeping Pascale Ferran’s Bird People away from Jane Campion,” writes Grantland‘s Wesley Morris. Both he and Mike D’Angelo, dispatching to the Dissolve, argue a convincing case that Ferran’s first feature since Lady Chatterley (2006) ought to have been promoted from the Un Certain Regard lineup to the Competition (Campion is, of course, president of this year’s jury).
Morris: “It’s the most inspired thing I’ve seen. The film’s setting is the Charles de Gaulle Airport and a nearby Hilton, and the movie eventually is split into the story of a Silicon Valley businessman [Gary, played by Josh Charles] and a university student and member of the housekeeping staff [Audrey, played by Anaïs Demoustier] who cleans his room. He makes a surprising life-altering decision. Then one is made for her. This movie is none of what you think it is. It becomes more. And not just after Something Happens…. This movie deserves to find a U.S. distributor who wants to make a little money delighting the shit out of people.”
D’Angelo points out that, when Gary quits his job and leaves his family, most films “would handle this quickly and efficiently, so the story it kicks off can get underway; here, Gary’s decision is the story, and Ferran insists on watching him deal with its practical details… Audrey’s half of this bizarre diptych is magical almost beyond description, reflecting Gary’s half symbolically in a way similar to the bifurcation in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Tropical Malady.” And he admires Bird People‘s “go-for-broke combination of microscopic procedural anarchy and anthropomorphic whirlwind insanity.”
For the AV Club‘s A.A. Dowd, “this is mostly a singular, beguiling experience, its source of interest simply shifting from the mystery of character motivation to the daft delights that follow. And any sucker for people-watching will groove to Bird People’s more observational stretches, especially when Ferran shifts to a less… conventional perspective.”
Another champion is Fabien Lemercier, who, I have to warn you, gives away at Cineuropa a little more than I wanted to hear about before seeing Bird People myself some day. Still, he calls it an “extremely sophisticated feature film whose concept of hybridity and narrative interactions will nonetheless certainly unsettle a few.”
For now, this leaves the critics on the other side of the fence. At the Playlist, Oliver Lyttelton grants that Bird People “has its vocal champions here in Cannes, but we were legitimately puzzled by the film, which combines a drab, enervating English-language first half with a better, but still not entirely successful, second that marks a major departure from what’s come before.”
“Where the film goes is both unexpected and necessary, since however grounded and relatable these thinly detailed characters might be, the movie doesn’t actually seem to be going anywhere,” writes Variety‘s Peter Debruge. “That’s partly because Ferran and co-writer Guillaume Breaud present Gary and Audrey’s stories back-to-back rather than interweaving them (which might have amplified the duo’s romantic potential), but also because the film only reluctantly connects their two stories at all.” And “Ferran’s strangely artless sense of mise-en-scene accentuates the emptiness.”
“One of the most delightfully bizarre plot twists in recent memory doesn’t quite redeem a dramatically thin story,” finds Screen‘s Lee Marshall (who also spills a bean or two too many). For the Hollywood Reporter‘s Jordan Mintzer, “although the late sequences are well handled and fascinating to watch, they’re so far out in left field that’s its rather difficult to find one’s way back.” At RogerEbert.com, Barbara Scharres notes that Bird People “has enough product placement to stand as a 128-minute infomercial, and it’s just about as enlightening.”