sun 09/05/2021

DVD: Birds, Orphans and Fools | reviews, news & interviews

DVD: Birds, Orphans and Fools

DVD: Birds, Orphans and Fools

Visuals and theatrics run rife in 1969 Slovak rediscovery

Richly visual threesome, with emotional echoes of Truffaut's 'Jules et Jim'

What an astonishing rediscovery Juraj Jakubisko’s Birds, Orphans and Fools is! The 1969 Slovak film stans both outside history, and yet firmly within the context of its time, the year after Soviet troops quelled the Prague Spring. But its dating is eternal: the title’s inspired by the folk saying, “God takes care of birds, orphans and fools.”

What an astonishing rediscovery Juraj Jakubisko’s Birds, Orphans and Fools is! The 1969 Slovak film stans both outside history, and yet firmly within the context of its time, the year after Soviet troops quelled the Prague Spring. But its dating is eternal: the title’s inspired by the folk saying, “God takes care of birds, orphans and fools.”

Put simply, Birds… is a loosely romantic threesome, centred around Andrej (Phillippe Avron), his best friend Yorick (yes, the Shakespearean references are there: Jirí Sýkora), and their street waif discovery, Marta (Magda Vásáryová, pictured below right). All energetic, eccentric performances, reflecting their time and attitudes of society. But there’s much more here, not least astonishing colour photography that in this newly restored print looks as bright as anything from its time, by cinematographer Igor Luther, and a memorable score from Zdenek Liska.

It’s a mad, mad - and strangely post-modern - world

Given that the film was virtually repressed from 1969 until 20 years later, we can only wonder about its later influences. Did Pasolini see it, and relish its colours, not to mention the drops into yellow and blue sepia for the odd scene? Or Sergei Paradzhanov, enjoying its distinctive framing devices? Equally, what exactly was Jakubisko drawing on? Elements of Surrealism? Certainly. As well as the emotional rhythm of Truffaut’s Jules et Jim? Absurdity, too: no surprise that Jakubisko’s short film from the year before this one was based on Waiting for Godot.

On the influence note, the booklet accompanying Birds… from renowned historian of Eastern European cinema Peter Hames (who’s ushered in the majority of DVD releaser Second Run’s catalogue from that part of the world) suggests that it was Godard rather than Truffaut from the nouvelle vague who was more of an influence on Jakubisko. Hames also provides excellent brief context on the differences between the better-known Czech New Wave and its far lesser known Slovak relation of the same years (though Jakubisko went through the Prague Film School, Birds… is as far away from that style as could be imagined). Viewers will also benefit from reading Hames’ other elucidations to fully understand the film’s historical context, since some of its references are far from obvious.

There’s a wonderful phrase in the film that somehow catches its essence, “Courage for foolishness”. And another, ultimately so Slavic, in tone: “Why is sadness the only beauty that lasts?” Birds, Orphans and Fools may remain ultimately a niche film from the extraordinary times in which it was made, and looks unique. It’s a mad, mad - and strangely post-modern - world.

 

There’s a wonderful phrase in the film that somehow catches its essence, 'Courage for foolishness'

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters