Directed by Pascale Ferran
The majority of Bird People takes place at a Hilton overlooking the tarmac at Charles de Gaulle—the film depicts a decentered Paris, a place that people pass through, stuck in their own thoughts. The setting might call to mind Tati’s similarly airport-adjacent Playtime, but filmmaker Pascale Ferran grounds her feature in a randomness more stealthily magical than modern-life chaotic, establishing a sort of breezy melancholy. Early on, she zeroes in, one at a time, on individual commuter-train passengers, letting us into their headspace as they listen to music, make mundane calculations, or else give air to more intimate thoughts in internal monologue.
Here, the viewer is treated to practically a whole bus full of narrative possibilities, so the “story” that unfolds at first blush seems rather arbitrary, just one direction among many the film could’ve taken. Bird People’s first half concerns the San Jose native Gary Newman (Josh Charles, not entirely convincing at embodying anxiety), booked to connect to Dubai on business, who opts to hole up in his hotel room instead, raiding the minibar, quietly resolving to quit his job and leave his family; the second part follows a different character, Audrey Camuzet (a dreamy Anaïs Demoustier), working her way through college as a maid at that very same hotel. She undergoes an altogether more fantastical transformation (suffice it to say that this film features some impressively swooping aerial photography), but they both wind up finding their way to a tenuous freedom, managing to disconnect, for a moment, from their mounting sense of disconnection.
Despite its question-prompting construction and flight-from-reality theme, Bird People ultimately darts around too much to fit on the continuum that stretches from Hawthorne’s “Wakefield” through Azazel Jacobs’s Momma’s Man, stories about husbands going unaccountably absent from their perfectly fine home lives. The new movie’s screenplay, by Ferran and Guillaume Breaud, seems less interested in the mysteries of human behavior (it doesn’t generally hide character motivations) than in the little ripple effects of daily interactions (of course these two story lines have their points of intersection). Ferran, best known for her 2006 Lady Chatterley’s Lover adaptation, has made a film that, however slight, achieves a heightened sensitivity, attentive to the microclimates of feeling developing in the hotel’s rooms, hallways, and back offices—in short, the fleeting emotional states that begin to transmute this nowhere in particular into somewhere after all.
Opens September 12