Right from the image in the opening of a hazy highway with a burning car driving off in the distance, you know you are dealing with the highest caliber here. Co-writer Sara Mishara’s work as the cinematographer is breathtaking, with the best pastoral imagery of Canadian farmland since Nestor Almendros and Haskell Wexler’s Oscar-winning work in Terrance Malick’s Days of Heaven. Mishara captures the panoramic beauty of nature while bathing everything is the essence of sunsets. She also has shots that recall David Lynch’s visual high notes, particularly those found in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The image of Julie’s hidden anguished face in red light when she realizes her secret lover had not returned this season is one of the most expressionistic outer images of inner pain I have ever seen. She also does great service with glorious tracking shots showcasing the marvelous production design by André-Line Beauparlant. Mishara shoots fantastic moments of visual wonder that show off the best of how to create genius art with a camera.
“Artwork like this is rarely so accessible, but Grbovic hits that sweet spot.”
Director Grbovic has a drama here that has been soaked in the tradition of great noir. Drunken Birds is, at its core, an outlaw couple on the run movie, though this time, the couple is separated. This imbues the drama with sensationalism that runs through the movie like an electric current. It is especially satisfying to see how the trope of the femme fatale is met, as the female characters are not lethal by intention this time. It also utilizes some of the most seamless noir flashbacks you will encounter, with the story split into a labyrinth of memories one almost gets lost in.
Artwork like this is rarely so accessible, but Grbovic hits that sweet spot. Guerrero is excellent as Willy, who commands your attention as the lead and plays desperation and yearning like a piano here. Florent gives a smashing performance as farmer’s wife Julie, who is conflicted and complicated by her destructive desires. Johnson gets to stand out as the troubled daughter, particularly in the pivotal second half of the picture, where things get dark fast.
Grbovic has crafted a masterpiece of 21st-century bucolic noir that will be remembered for a long time. Drunken Birds astounding visuals and story craftsmanship make a film experience that reminds me why I love this medium so much.
Drunken Birds screened at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.
"…a masterpiece of 21st century bucolic noir that will be remembered for a long time."