Impressions of … Boy Eating the Bird’s Food (Ektoras Lygizos)

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Very good film.

I was under the impression this was about the current economic hardship in modern Greece, but that seems to have been a coincidence the sales agents and/or press seized on (what is this obsession with relevance? newspapers need to be relevant – art has value if it offers an insight into the human condition, it doesn’t need to be ‘relevant’ to do this and often is diminished by being too much of its time)
In fact, it’s a starving artist story, more Knut Hamsen’s ‘Hunger’ than ‘La Boheme’, the hero is a young singer (a counter-tenor?) trying to make it in the big city, who blows an audition when he passes out, from hunger, we watch him scratching about struggling to keep himself and his pet canary alive: they share meals, as you will guess from the title

we watch him closely, intimately, we accompany him: it’s one of those ‘following’ films – neo-neo-realism – often focussing on nape of the neck, a strategy popularised, I guess, by the Dardennes brothers, actually I’m reminded of ‘Rosetta’, but the protagonist here is almost the inverse – while Rosetta was a fighter, while this guy (don’t know his name), his situation seems more self-inflicted, he appears isolated in the city with no friends or relatives and, based on one side of one phone call, has a problematic relationship with his mother … do they approve of his chosen career? is he too proud to ask for help?

it’s also one of those films that makes you want to reach out and help the misguided protagonist, or slap him: on several occasions he visits – should I say ‘stalks’? – a sweet, doe-eyed hotel receptionist, but proves too shy to speak to her; for several scenes, I thought this girl must be his ex, such was his agitation, I was somehow disappointed by the idea, I felt for him, but this would’ve been too ordinary, too normal, thankfully, as it turned out, they were strangers …

their connection/attraction was articulated in one gesture: the girl imitates his tilt of the head, an excess of instantaneous meaning, which is pure cinema

there was, I now realize, very little dialogue, but there was quite a bit of action, including the camera, and the editing cut out the boring bits, as Godard once recommended, most notable was the balletic movement of the actor, it was as if the character, keeping his own company, and having no outlet for his art, had to amuse himself with movement, the way he went about removing the bird feeder from the cage was elaborate, gratuitous and at the same time expressive of his ambivalence, in another scene he ends up quite naturally perched on a kitchen unit with the notice of eviction (I think) balanced on (the nape of) his neck, I found this choreography intriguing and engrossing

it won’t have been ‘written’, that’s to say, this is a film that would have been developed with the actor and may have been unthinkable (in this form) without him, I say that with good reason, because the camera’s intimacy with him is thorough and graphic, there is one remarkable scene in which he masturbates after seeing the girl, we watch his face, his shoulder moving with that tell-tale vigour, and then we see exactly what he is doing, it’s really happening, and mor than this, we see that bird seed is not the only kind of seed he samples
now it is claimed that not to show something is more effective than actually showing it, you induce the idea or image of it in the viewer’s imagination, I would tend to agree, until now … in this scene, at the insinuation of what he was doing, I winced, but when it showed exactly what he was doing, this had more impact: I put my hands over my mouth, almost covering my eyes, as if I were implementing the censorship on myself; it had more impact because it wasn’t cheated, it was real

(this, ladies and gentlemen, is true realism, not authentic dialogue, or the presentation of a socially-relevant story in a contemporary setting; this detail, this intimacy, this commitment)

the development of the narrative was consistently surprising, although the downward trajectory was entirely expected, given his choices, and his dire situation, I imagine many viewers will be frustrated by their inability to intervene in events, demanding more information on the guy’s situation – so they can provide the solutions to prevent his degradation, or maybe to determine whether he deserves their sympathy, I’m pretty sure many people would deny this sympathy either way (it depends whether you judge dining on bird seed preferable to working in a seedy call centre) no, it really depends on your sympathy for the artist and that special kind of insanity that refuses compromise or moderation, or whether you find meaning in self-mortification, come to think of it, this type of hero is in the Bresson mould, the alienated, but pure martyr-figure, thankfully again, apart from the Bach aria he sings, the film didn’t pursue this to its conclusion

~~~

I’d like to take this opportunity to note that this film had no ‘Story’ and yet there was a compelling and cinematic narrative …

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