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  Bird Island Watch The Birdie
Year: 2019
Director: Sergio Da Costa, Maya Kosa
Stars: Antonin Ivanidze, Emilie Brethaut, Paul Sauteur
Genre: Drama, DocumentaryBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Antonin (Antonin Ivanidze) is a sickly young man who has recently survived a bout of cancer, but it has left him with exhaustion issues which mean he falls asleep regularly, making his compatibility with a conventional job none too easy. To make up for this, a post in a bird sanctuary has been suggested, one which he decides to try, where he will help to look after ill and injured creatures among the small staff, all of whom are prepared to accept Antonin the way he is. Initially he is enlisted to help Paul (Paul Sauteur) who takes care of breeding the rats and mice to feed the carnivorous patients, which involves not only learning how to handle the rodents, but also being able to kill them quickly and efficiently as well...

Bird Island was an unusual little Swiss documentary about the sanctuary which may have been real, and may have been staffed by the folks we saw, but had actually been scripted to offer a more dramatic set of circumstances than might otherwise have occurred, sort of scripted reality for vets and their assistants. Ivanidze was not really one of them, he was an actor who placed what we witnessed in context through a voiceover narration, but he was helping out around the sanctuary as was captured on the camera - genuinely feeding the birds of prey, and even cutting up the mouse bodies as food for them, for instance. Be prepared if you were at all uneasy at seeing sick animals or closed your eyes at nature documentaries when the beasts had their mealtimes.

The birds we were introduced to did not all have gory injuries, however, as one owl is apparently suffering from shock; we never find out what that shock was, but the poor thing assuredly does not look as if it has any appetite for living anymore. We get the impression Antonin has grown quite attached to the owl, perhaps feeling some sympathy with its enforced lethargy, so when he gets a proper chance to look after it it's presumably supposed to be a life-affirming development, though the direction from Sergio Da Costa and Maya Kosa was so matter of fact as to be almost lethargic itself, never mind the owl's performance, nor our sensitive leading man. Mind you, despite coming across as about to collapse in any one scene, Antonin did not appear fazed by the more unpleasant elements of the tasks he was required to carry out.

Maybe the message was, like the birds, he was made of sterner stuff than he thought, though that did not prevent a twist where some of the rats get out and start taking bites out of the smaller birds, leading to a methodically shown sequence where one is humanely destroyed with gas and injection, then as its pathetic, tiny corpse relaxes in death, the vet places a huge-in-comparison stethoscope onto its body to make sure it has gone to meet its maker. If that description puts you off, then that was more or less the mood of the whole piece, which at around an hour in length did not last long enough to wear out its welcome, and managed to include a subplot about the neighbouring airport which employs a bird scarer so they don't get in the way of the aeroplanes. But there was also a couple of uses of a heat sensitive camera, employed to trace the decrease in temperature of a recently killed mouse and at the end, to see the owl that has now been returned to nature. It was not exactly bizarre or outlandish, but it did contain a slightly off-kilter tone as if we were not being told everything we needed to know, so as a documentary it did not succeed, but as drama, it would if you were a mouse.

Aka: L'ile aux oiseaux

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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