25 September 2009

Birdwatchers - Out Now

Dir: Marco Bechis
Released 18 Sept

A thoughtful and well observed story of culture clash in rural Brazil, Birdwatchers is at times haunting and sad, capturing rare images of a stunning and beautiful land. The traditional way of life of the indigenous Guarani-Kaiowa people of Mato Grosso do Sul is pushed to the forefront, revealing a proud race constantly under threat from the modern world. The film is the story of their ability (and struggle) to adapt accordingly, while staying true to the beliefs of their elders.

Unfortunately, a somewhat disjointed and disorientating narrative does not fully do the tribespeople or their plight complete justice. The plot jumps around too quickly in an effort to personalise the political statement of the piece. The burgeoning love affair between trainee shaman Osvaldo and farmer’s daughter Maria and the flirtations between ‘The Scarecrow’ (recruited by the landowners to watch the tribe) and the local women could have both received more screen time. Instead their stories are left to dwindle disappointingly away. Similarly, the emotional impact of a second suicide within the tribe feels curiously dampened by the amount of ground that is being covered.

However, there are many powerful scenes that resound in what is essentially a serious political film. The opening scene of bird-watching tourists floating down the river, expressing surprised delight at the ‘natives’ who jump up and down shaking spears and bows as they go by is great. Shortly afterwards we see these same ‘natives’ in modern dress getting paid for their acting work.

The political and social landscape of Guarani-Kaiowa is deeply imprinted on the movie and theirs is a story richly deserving of attention. It is a shame that at times it feels as though a traditional documentary may have worked better. That said, the film is a moving and humbling account of a battle that has and is being fought all around the globe.

Robert Monk