In Red Birds (Les Oiseaux Rouge-sounds so much better in French) filmmaker Brigitte Cornand embellishes on rudeness. Her documentary becomes an exercise in tuning out the yip-yap and tuning into what's unseen. Birds pecking around their habitat become incandescent distractions and a harem of female artists voice the creatures' imagined streams of thought. The odd coupling works. Flocks will head to this artfilm and use new muscles to revel in the film's bare-naked message.
Each artist is paired with a different bird. Painter Louise Bourgeois is a cardinal. Her tender-toned voice reveals itself while reciting an impromptu French nursery rhyme. Meanwhile the red cardinal hops from twig to twig.
The film keeps to a steady pattern; bird to bird, artist to artist. The dove on the wrought iron fire escape winks at Kiki Smith. Geneviève Cadieux's amusing sexual awakening thread upends proper ladylike chitchat, while blue jays tend wild grassy knolls. Annete Messager's house sparrow is on a play date outside while her voice carries on about how she was labeled a whore and bitch for crossing out babies' eyes. June Leaf exposes her use of mirrors to encompass what is Woman over visuals of a bird seesawing on a wooden branch in front of a vast, sea-blue sky. Mallard ducks waddle about while painter Joan Jonas explains her method approach to letting the landscape pass through her. As more artists commentate, attentions drift and catbirds, chickadees, swallows and towhees chirp away.
It gets easier to listen while birds do their thing. You stop wondering, ‘Where's the face of the woman speaking?' The listening is more intense and the listener is more intent to receive. Red Birds is about exchange. You listen in return for goods while unrepentant female creators come clean with their deepest intimacies. Though more can be mined by doing away with faces the information doesn't sink-in easily-at first. Onscreen or in-person we want to know who's who and what's what. Still, the effect of shedding this comfort skin is liberating. Restricting and tweaking what's heard or witnessed achieves new dimensions. The discussion becomes less lectern-to-chair and more earlobe-to-earlobe.
Every aviary species chosen to represent an artist compliments her feminine and animal traits. Not one bird displays any aggression. No hawks or vultures are cast in this picture. Most of the creatures captured on the handheld camera are docile or very playful. Some appear silhouetted on a massive tree while others flap to a solo tune.
You fly with these birds, nibble on berries and blossom and feed off of the each artist's incision. All of it inches closer to vivid listening and thinking
Distributor: Les Films du Siamois/Cetre Popidou
Cast: Louise Bourgeois, Kiki Smith, Geneviève Cadieux, Annette Messager, Carolee Schneemann, June Leaf, Nicola L, Pat Steir, Nancy Holt, Mary Miss, Gloria Friedmann, Joan Jonas, Gwenn Thomas and Martha Rosler
Director/Producer: Brigitte Cornand
Genre: Conceptual film; English- and French-languages, subtitled
Running time: 75 min.
Release date: April 21 NY