Drunken Birds focuses on romance unfolding with mystery and style
We start with the end, the end of a cartel. Men climb the walls to enter the now-abandoned estate, walking among paintings and sculptures before stripping down to bathe in the indoor pool as a giant portrait of their unwitting (and now jailed) benefactor gazes. . One of them decides to put on a fur coat while rummaging through the papers on the boss’s desk. He takes a note and starts reading before throwing it away out of boredom. The voice of its author, however, continues to speak. Discussions of a shootout, love, and empowerment follow one another until the smooth sliding of a tarp covering an expensive car brings us back to when the letter was composed inside. The present provides the past.
Writer / Director Ivan Grbovic and Co-Writer / Cinematographer Sara Mishara take us back in time to put romance at the center of their story. Drunken birds [Drunken Birds] can unfold with mystery and anticipation. After all, the first scene we see isn’t even in Mexico. Instead, we walk into an older woman’s apartment in Montreal as she misses a call and watch a young man in the street below almost get hit by a car. We don’t know who she is or the woman coming out of the bathroom wondering who was on the phone. And just as it looks like answers will emerge as someone obscures their door peephole, we’re whisked down a desolate desert road in pursuit of a car engulfed in flames.
What a sequence of opening events. The calm serenity of Canada. The violent action of a Mexican cleaning cartel. The humor of the inert wealth left behind to be collected by the exploited masses upon which it was built. These are snapshots of a story we haven’t even entered yet, beyond the idea that the man inside the burning car (who is ultimately spared by his pursuer) is the man whom the author of the letter loves. He (Willy de Jorge Antonio Guerrero) is the pilot of the big man. She (Marlena de Yoshira EscÃ¡rrega) is the wife of the great man. The idea is to leave Mexico separately in the hope that no one will suspect, swearing to meet up later while making sure neither can reveal the other’s whereabouts. ‘he is questioned. A necklace becomes the only clue.
More of a romance, however, Drunken birds reveals itself as a tapestry of life’s unhappy inclination to separate lovers. There are Willy and Marlena. There is his new boss in a dairy farm in Montreal (Richard de Claude Legault) who is unable to bridge a growing chasm between him and his wife. There is the latter (Julie d’HÃ©lÃ¨ne Florent) and her excitement that the last harvest will potentially bring back the migrant worker with whom she had an affair last summer. And, of course, there is an old pillar who has made that trip north over the past fifteen years to support his family in Mexico. He comforts Willy when the newcomer laments that he begins to forget Marlena with each passing day. He tells her that their reunion will inevitably bring it all back.
Grbovic weaves everything into each other as he moves forward, playing with time both through cuts and hallucinations. One moment sees Julie come out into the field to steal a kiss with her lover and the next turns to show her alone in melancholy rejoicing rather than in his arms. Another sequence finds her in the greenhouse during a rainstorm, watching Willy walk outside her walls like a translucent shape transforming into that of the man she wishes she was there instead. And when that non-linear storytelling lacks a bit of panache, he turns the dial to darken the frame and slow the pace for an unexpected soundtrack-fueled interlude that makes us salivate for anything that might come next.
For the answer to come in the form of Richard and Julie’s daughter (Lea from Marine Johnson) caught in a teenage rebellious streak that takes her to the big city for a storyline far beyond her imagination can prove to be extreme, but you can’t deny the impact his mirrored gaze has on domineering men on their way to maybe set the stage for everyone to get what they want. Another chase begins. Another example of exploited men watching their employers get rich on the fringes. Another act of charity that proves that not everyone can pull the trigger so easily, no matter how much rage they gain while piling up. Ultimately, everyone on screen finds themselves overcome with emotion to get back what they’ve lost.
Does it sometimes get melodramatic? Sure. Never as much as it sounds like the soap opera Willy and his colleagues watch in their spare time, however. It’s more about embracing the hyper-stylized power of love at first sight, just as marvelous in its manifestation as it is chaotic in its execution. Perhaps, as one anecdote describes it, this love will come at the cost of an unforeseen slowdown. Or maybe, like with Willy, it happens in a way that assures death if ever discovered. Grbovic lives and dies from these costs. He makes quite an all-or-nothing exercise with gunshots, infidelities, possessions, and a pimp all too happy to send a message when betrayed. Will the characters balk at the price they will have to pay?
One thing is certain: Willy will not. Guerrero is the heart and soul of the film and he travels to and from completely different worlds to finally put his arms around the woman he loves. It is an emotional journey with multiple starts and stops made up of varying degrees of danger. And if it’s not the cartel that shoots her down for her transgression, it could very well be Julie (Florent doesn’t have as much screen time, but she makes the most of it) as her desire for affection. , both as a means to comfort and to ignite a long latent passion for her husband, risks drawing him into the crosshairs. Grbovic eventually creates more snapshots to follow Willy to his destination, wrapping us around to finish early.
Drunken birds performed at the Toronto International Film Festival.