Wednesday, October 16, 2013

FROM CIFF 2013: BLUEBIRD (Edmands, 2013)

The opening moments of Bluebird let you know everything that’s coming. In the snowy Maine forests, we observe machines methodically cutting down trees, sawing them down to manageable sizes before grinding them down to pulp. The detached, observant camera will work the same way, slowly chiseling down the characters until we get to the guts of them.  But through it we’ll learn, just as they’ll learn, that they’re lonely isolated people, surrounding themselves with glass and metal to protect themselves from the harshness of the environment and, more tragically, each other.

The interconnection between man, nature and industry runs throughout the film. The title Bluebird  could refer to a couple of things. The inciting incident of the film that pushes all the characters awkwardly together happens because Lesley was distracted by a bluebird that flew on to her bus. The presence of the bird is unsettling - it’s the middle of winter in Maine and all the birds should be on vacation down south. Perhaps this bird was left behind by its family connecting it to Owen, who will be left on a bus by himself over night. Or the title could be referring to the Bluebird Corporation who manufacture and sell the buses that our school children ride on everyday. When asked about the title during a Q&A, writer/director Lance Edmands said he had the title before there was even a Bluebird, but didn’t expound on where exactly it came from in the first place. Perhaps he is imitating his own art, unaware of the connections he makes to his own film just as the characters in the film are oblivious to their commonality.

In some ways Bluebird is reminiscent to Alejandro González Iñárritu’s films(who’s next film, coincidentally, is called Birdman), with characters playing out their own personal dramas, but in many cases not knowing how they relate to one another, or what part they play in a certain chain of events that ties them together. In Iñárritu’s Babel, you have a Japanese man who gifted a gun that shot the tourists, whose children are being watched by the Mexican nanny, who is also an illegal immigrant and gets deported - and maybe none of the events happen without the first man gifting the gun. An illustration of how much a small action can affect people you may never know. Bluebird’s connections are more trivial, but possibly more personal. For example Lesley’s daughter, Paula, winds up a dozen or so snow globes as she stocks them in the clearance aisle at her work. Later Marla would come and buy one of those same snow globes as a gift for her ailing son. In another moment Marla, high on drugs, falls asleep in her bathtub. She awakes in the freezing water to the news that her son was left in a bus last night and he now suffers from hypothermia. The principle thread that connects Lesley and Marla, forgetting Owen on the bus, is presented not so the film can spend its duration finding someone to blame - they both share responsibility - but in showing the difficulty human beings have dealing with these burdens.

This self-conflict feels like the film’s preoccupation. The dialogue is short and terse and feels like pulling teeth from a jaw wired shut for years. And the few emotional outbursts between characters, though usually out of anger, feel cathartic because they’re finally letting themselves be affected or to affect others. These are people who know something is wrong but don’t even know what it is, clumsily fumbling around obstacles, unable to help each other because they’re busy with their own personal conflict. Lesley’s refrain of “I’m fine” is just as ironic as Marla’s confession “I just want to be like a real human being.” Lesley isn’t fine and Marla is a real human being, it’s just that being a human sucks sometimes.

After the Q&A with Edmands, those of us who stuck around slowly shuffled out of the theater and I overheard a woman ahead of me:  “Well, I still don’t like the ending,” she said to her friend. Still. It sounded as though she were defending her sensibilities despite the director coming off as a nice guy. Before the movie had started Edmands told us we’d have questions and he’d try his best answer them. I think the film answered enough. Most questions people will have when the credits roll will be inconsequential. Does the boy survive? Does the marriage work out? Does Marla drop the lawsuit? Depending on your disposition you could answer these any way you want, there’s no wrong answer here. And while these questions may frustrate viewers, it seemed clear that this film was never about resolution. It’s about acknowledging that you have a problem, not how they get fixed. We’ve seen enough of those films, we know how they end. But by putting the focus on the internal conflict of recognizing your own faults and allowing others to see them too, Edmands is able to mine some interesting, beautiful, human moments that would possibly get lost in other movies trying to fit in all that tedious resolution. So what if they live happily ever after, just as long as they live.

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