by James Hansen
Albert Serra’s Birdsong, a minimalist portrayal of the three wise men’s journey to honor baby Jesus, rests in laurels in textures of lightness and darkness. With only slight references to the scope of their venture, Birdsong remains almost completely void of the extratextual narratological significance of the birth of Christ. Rather, the wise men are portrayed as a trio of bumbling and indecisive fools wandering their way to nowhere. Without choirs of angels singing in exaltation – save the lone music cue of the entire film when they bow uncomfortably bow before Mary, Joseph, and Jesus – Birdsong is quite demanding, but the aimless journey is matched formally by the array of cinematographic choices, most namely the long periods where the frame is filled in almost complete black or white making the wise men oftentimes indecipherable from the textured surfaces and shifting grain. Serra’s formal mastery is never in question, as each shift in color, light, and sound (read: silence) foregrounds a lyrical relationship between the wise men and the audience, both of which become absorbed, oftentimes comedically, in the utter aimlessness and discomfort of the quest. Birdsong requires a deal of patient engagement, but it was impossible, at least for me, to not heed the call.