Bird People (2014, Pascale Ferran)

Gary (Josh Charles of Sports Night) checks into a Paris hotel for a business trip before an important meeting, then calls work to say he quits, and calls his wife to say he’s never coming home. Typical movie behavior would have him drop these bombshells on stunned boss and family then walk away, but Gary spends half the movie on phone and skype, helping his coworkers deal with his sudden absence and discussing the sudden separation with wife Radha Mitchell (Silent Hill).

Meanwhile, student Audrey (Anaïs Demoustier, Isabelle Huppert’s daughter in Time of the Wolf), a bit of a voyeur, is dispirited by her job as a part-time hotel maid. While cleaning a suite the power goes out, and Audrey becomes a sparrow. She flies around the airport area, going in and out of hotel rooms through open windows, and we hear her voice puzzling things out and gasping in sheer delight – at least when we bird-lover film viewers can hear her over our own delighted gasps. You don’t want the movie to come down to earth, and her to inevitably meet Josh Charles, but all things must end.

First meeting, on a moving walkway in the airport:

From Mike D’Angelo’s great review (spoiler-free, he says “Audrey poses nude for a Japanese artist staying at the hotel, and is paid in Pringles” without mentioning she’s a bird at the time):

Only two characters figure prominently in Bird People, Pascale Ferran’s alternately mundane and magical tale of extreme liberation, which is set almost entirely at a Hilton adjacent to Paris’ Charles De Gaulle Airport. Before getting hermetic, however, Ferran serves up an expansive prologue in which her camera flits and darts, birdlike, among the diverse passengers of a commuter train, eavesdropping on their conversations, their music, and their random thoughts. None of this has any bearing on the twin stories that follow (though one of the two protagonists is briefly seen); it’s just the movie’s way of suggesting, in advance, that the anxieties it explores are universal. We could potentially wind up following any of these people, and each journey might be every bit as unexpected.

Said to have been inspired by Haruki Murakami novels. Audrey’s bird-transformation wasn’t entirely unexpected – the last movie I watched with “bird people” in the title also featured bird people, not just a metaphor. I think this is Ferran’s fourth feature – she’s also a Céline Sciamma associate and cowriter of The Red Turtle. Played in Cannes UCR 2014 with Jauja and Force Majeure and winner White God, which it turns out wasn’t even the best animal movie in that lineup.