The Metamorphosis of Birds
Stars: Catarina Vasconcelos, José Manuel Mendes, Claudia Varejão, Manuel Rosa
Shades of Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘Mirror’ in this, the feature debut of writer-director Catarina Vasconcelos, an affecting and lyrical memoir of a Portuguese family’s history.
Henrique, the director’s grandfather married Beatriz or ‘Triz’ on her 21st birthday. As Henrique was a sailor in the Portuguese navy, the couple spent a great deal of time apart, with Henrique absent for the birth of two of their three children. While Henrique is associated with the sea, Triz is identified with trees and roots; he the horizontal, she the vertical. After Triz dies many years later, Henrique orders their letters to be burned. Their grown-up children reluctantly consent.
The picture is an attempt to depict Triz’s life using a patchwork of correspondence, photographs and family reminisces. It was initiated after the director’s mother’s own death, when Vaconcelos bonded with her father over the loss of their respective mothers. The first half broadly deals with Triz; the second with Vasconcelos’s mother.
As befits a picture about memory, Vasconcelos’s approach is abstract and discursive, with the director exploring the connections between people and objects via recreations, images and tableaux.
The visuals are beautifully rendered by cinematographer Paulo Menezes in warm and muted tones, even if some of the more outré surrealist images threaten to break the meditative spell. The closing passage, in which Vaconcelos revisits a family recording is very moving.
The Metamorphosis of Birds is released 11th March
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