Metamorphosis of Birds, The (2020)

This extraordinary Portuguese docu-fiction is best described as Malick meets Parajanov—a transcendental portrait of what it means to navigate the personal, the familial and the ancestral as a lineage of lived experiences. 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Dir. Catarina Vasconcelos
2020 | Portugal | Docu-Fiction | 101 mins | 1.33:1 | Portuguese
PG (passed clean)

Cast: Manuel Rosa, Joao Mora, Ana Vasconcelos
Plot: The passing away of their respective mothers makes Catarina and her own father meet in an emotional place that is different from the one most fathers and daughters know.
Awards: Won FIPRESCI Prize – Encounters (Berlinale)
International Sales: Portuguese Film Agency

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Lineage, Philosophy, Existence
Narrative Style:  Complex/Abstract
Pace: Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Screener – Perspectives Film Festival 2020
Spoilers: No

The discovery of the year, The Metamorphosis of Birds is an extraordinary debut feature by Catarina Vasconcelos.  As its name suggests, it is a poetic and philosophical work, yet it is also highly personal. 

And because it is a film so close to the filmmaker’s heart and soul, its abstract qualities do not detract from the experience of viewing it. 

I would describe her film as Malick meets Parajanov, where natural realism comes to terms with performative artifice, and where time, memory, and collective histories conflate. 

It’s a refreshing docu-fictive experiment, mixing matter-of-fact narration with lyrical storytelling, and styled in a series of static vignettes that sometimes operate as tableaus. 

It is, not surprisingly, self-reflexive as well, as Vasconcelos traces her family roots with a deep yearning for the past.  She tells the story of her father’s deceased mother from her father’s point-of-view, while also telling the story of her late mother from her own perspective. 

As such, the film’s intimate meeting of grief, if you will, between father and daughter who have both lost their mothers, becomes a transcendental portrait of what it means to navigate the personal, the familial and the ancestral as a lineage of lived experiences. 

As Vasconcelos inches closer to the truth of her lineage with one immaculately-composed shot after another, we are also reminded of our own.  Do we really know who we are, and where we have come from? 

A deeply reflective work of art, Vasconcelos offers us an inviting way forward to approach these existential questions to the tune of one of Schubert’s most affecting piano sonatas. 

Grade: A



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