Pining for the nest in nourishing The Metamorphosis of Birds

Friday, 11th March — By Dan Carrier

The Metamorphosis of Birds_1

Directed by Catarina Vasconcelos
Certificate: U

“GIVE me a heart as big as a whale, which calmly dives during storms, or a heart as tall as the treetops, so that, from afar, I can always follow the flight of my children…”

Grandiose emotions expressed in a form of biblical poetry, this Portuguese language film marries together a series of artistic disciplines as it tells the story of a love between two people, and the family this love produced, via letters penned to absent partners.

Director Catarina Vasconcelos took the letters between her grandparents Henrique and Beatriz as the starting point for this amalgamation of documentary, memoir and fiction.

We meet grandfather Henrique as he settles in to a new room in sheltered housing. As he puts up paintings and arranges photographs, the world he has lived through and the family he has raised invade his thoughts. We are offered a pew to discover a unique, personal family history.

Henrique was a merchant navy sailor and would spend months away at sea. His letters are full of wistfulness – his personality shaped by the vastness of the oceans, and his melancholia given plenty of time on board to grow, and be made more urgent and acidic by his homesickness and his love for his family.

We are treated to voiceovers of his pining letters – and then cut-aways to the family at home, missing the patriarch. Henrique reaches a stoic conclusion, formed by his sense of powerlessness to be with his family when oceans separate them.

Throughout there is a blurring between cinema and other visual arts. Scenes are set up as still lifes, with the viewer asked to commit their patience to enjoy each one. The lighting draws on the Dutch school. We watch small domestic moments become Rembrandts.

Blending documentary with fictional narrative, creating a soundtrack of eerie fog horns and crashing waves alongside the words of love letters from grandfather to grandmother, and wrapping it all up in a film style that draws on how Old Masters would frame their subjects, Vasconcelos aims high.

There is no big philosophical reveal. Instead, this is a consideration of family love, and of mourning those who came before us. Beautifully made, gentle on the eye, Vasconcelo’s work is nourishment for your soul.

Related Articles