Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 02, 2017 9:07 pm 
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A world gone wrong

Human life is all-too cheap and expendable in Birdshot. The well-being of one of the Philippines’ endangered and treasured national eagles, however, is a completely different matter. Indeed, in Mikhail Red’s sophomore feature, harming the animal is an act worth marshaling official firepower and even killing for. In his follow up to 2013’s Rekorder, the writer/director crafts a brooding, pondering thriller that dissects the hypocrisy of valuing one creature’s existence while willingly ignoring or causing the deaths of others.

Such a description may make Birdshot sound heavy-handed in ts commentary on the state of Red’s homeland, and it sometimes is, but it’s also an effort of haunting contemplation and troubled beauty. Both the strength of its underlying themes and its striking visuals should help the film venture beyond its Tokyo International Film Festival premiere, with its scenic Filipino farmland sights, many loaded pauses and soulful performances tailor-made for the festival circuit. Red previously received the best new director award at the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival, ensuring that interest should be piqued for the 24-year-old helmer’s latest stint behind the lens.- Sarah Ward, [url=""]Screen Daily[/url]

Is this director really only 24, and this is his second film? Apparently. He may be the Xavier Dolan of the Philippines - but one with more of a social conscience. In Birdshot, the story of a farmer's teenage daughter Maya (Mary Joy Apostol), who accidentally shoots an endangered species eagle, alternates with that of Domingo (Arnold Reyes), a young and idealistic police detective investigating missing people who were on a bus. Mikhail Red deals in mood, and is a slow developer. At 40 minutes not a lot has happened, on screen, other than the death of the eagle.

But then it becomes clear that a police coverup of the bus incident is under way. Domingo discovers the busload was of farmers on their way to protest the appropriation of their land by rich landowners. They were "disappeared," and the case is squashed. Domingo goes out on a limb while he missing eagle has been assigned to him and his superior to replace the bus.

The police are drawn somewhat crudely. But Red still weaves a spell and there is passion behind his story, and the lovely landscape of the island of Mindanao is used to add a haunting, archaic mood to the often ugly, bent police procedural. A memorable film. (The stunning, nihilistic screenplay was written by Mikhail with his cousin, Rae Red.)

Birdshot, 116 mins., debuted at Tokyo Oct. 2016. Six other known festivals, including Gothenberg, Osaka, Vilnius and the NYAFF, and viewed for this review as part of the latter, where it showed on 6 July 2017. It is one of the NYAFF seven Main Competition films.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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