Bird (2024) Cannes Film Festival 2024

May 17th, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir/Wri: Andrea Arnold. UK/France. Drama, 119 mins

A slice of social grit soaked in the English countryside and served up with a dash of magical realism is the best way to describe this latest feature from Andrea Arnold.

Set in her native Kent on the fringes of Gravesend on the Thames estuary Bird makes multiple visual references to its avian-themed title but also features butterflies, bees, horses, foxes and dogs along with a cast of British actors, a German, Franz Rogowski, being the standout. He plays the titular hero Bird, a charismatic wayfarer who will soon come to represent everything decent and honourable in this squalid corner of broken Britain.

Arnold’s Cow, a devastating documentary portrait of a dairy farming in the 21st century, came to Cannes Film Festival several years ago but went home empty-handed. Bird stands to gain more leverage due to its international stars Rogowski, and Barry Keoghan who plays Bug, a selfish, tattooed layabout who fathered a kid (Hunter) at fourteen, and is now set to be a granddad and an accidental father to his savvy young daughter Bailey (Nykiya Adams in a stunning debut).

Apart from the animals, Bird is a chaotically poetic film full of music, dancing and fighting (courtesy of its male contingent). Coldplay, Fontaines D.C. and Sophie Ellis-Bextor all feature in a rambling storyline that centres on twelve-year-old Bailey who lives in a dingy seaside flat with Bug and her slightly older brother Hunter (Jason Edward Buda) who is also heading for teenage fatherhood. None appear to do a day’s work or have anything approaching a job. Bug’s plan is to harness the slime of his recently purchased Colorado River toad which exudes a pricey hallucinogen he can flog on the black market.

So Bailey is forced to make her own life until she befriends Bird after falling asleep in a field full of daisies beside the M2 – and these scenes are particularly gorgeous to look at; Arnold knows how to ‘smell the roses’ cinematically-speaking and Bird is a film that takes itself slowly along the byroads, alighting on nature in all its summery beauty as well as the dregsville domestic interiors, not to mention bodily functions. Is Bird for real? – at one point Bailey gives him a Chinese burn just to check, but he’s the nearest thing to a decent bloke she’s ever come across and so begins their subtle love affair.

Arnold’s 2009 feature Fish Tank embarked on a similar scenic journey for its lost heroine but this time the English filmmaker heads in an unexpectedly new and inspired direction, and this really makes the film special although thematically we’re on traditional territory. The handheld camera may leave you in a daze but that’s all part of the slightly unreal life these drifters lead. @MeredithTaylor




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