Bird Island (L’Île aux oiseaux) 2019 movie – A poetic meditation on our relationship with nature

Bird Island (L'Île aux oiseaux) movie from Switzerland - Directed by Maya Kosa and Sérgio da Costa and released in 2019 - This documentary talks about a remote bird care center.

Bird Island (L’Île aux Oiseaux) is a 2019 documentary movie that talks about the secluded life of a bird care center. With silence dominating most of the movie, the film makes us feel sad for the drastic changes we have induced in such a short span of time. 

This article is a small contribution from ‘The Art Muser’ to celebrate World Animal Day/Week.

The beginning

A gentle hand pierces a berry on the edge of one of the sharpest branches of a tree. Another hand places some live worms in the clefts of the barks and broken roots of trees. After those hands lay another apple and berry on a rock, we get to see the owner of those hands. A woman gently moves from one place to another and keeps the food for the birds. 

Bird Island (L'Île aux oiseaux) - a bird tastes its food
Bird Island (L’Île aux oiseaux) – a bird tastes its food

There is then this beautiful shot of a bird slowly jumping towards a slice of an apple pierced on a branch. It takes its time with every jump to ensure the food is at a safer place. With that done, it indulges its beak into the juicy fruit to enjoy its food. 

The woman enters another protected area and places meats on a tree’s bark for the carnivorous vultures present inside. They jump on the food as she leaves the place. Just as the birds begin to eat, we hear an airplane blaring above. 

Such is the beginning of Bird Island (L’Île aux Oiseaux). Close to 3 minutes, the silence and the birds dominate the screen. Yet we get a clear idea of what is happening around. We understand that we are in some kind of a bird care center and that the woman feeds the birds regularly, and the birds seem to enjoy the relationship. 

The Narrator

With that sound of the airplane passing, we see two men facing each other in a room occupied by little animals. We soon find out that the younger one of the two turns out to be our narrator. He breaks the silence with the first dialogue of the film – ‘What’s the smell?’ – after 4 minutes of quietness. The older man replies, ‘You’ll get used to it’ and moves towards a box containing half a dozen mice. He holds one of the little mice by its tail and securely transfers it to the adjacent box. His methodological act shows us that he has comprehensive experience in the job. 


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With a pleasant note of flute (I believe it to be a flute, sorry if I am wrong) playing at the back, he shifts all the mice to the other box. As he carries away the box, with the same music playing, the title ‘L’Île aux Oiseaux’ (Bird Island) appears.

The narrator joins the center as the old man is going to retire. Having never worked before, he has to learn all that he has to before his senior retires. Though he seems interested in the job, he is uncertain of his long term service, or rather, his long term gain on being in this job.

With the doubt lingering throughout, he begins to observe the place. His stooping posture profoundly reminds me of Iya from Beanpole. As he gets used to the workers and the surroundings, we are surprised to see the sheer oddity of those surroundings.

Bird Island (L'Île aux oiseaux) - the narrator
Bird Island (L’Île aux oiseaux) – the narrator

The conflicting environment

Rats/Mice are grown under controlled conditions (3 females for each male) just to feed them to the injured and recovering birds. While the film focuses on the services mankind tries to do for the birds, it is shocking to see them break the necks of the rats to kill them so as to feed those hungry birds. 

On a deeper note, I feel this is exactly what we, as a species, have been doing to the environment. With the thought of helping nature, we have made matters even worse. By trying to cure the problem, are we creating more dangerous, immediately invisible issues for the future? Well, I’ll be happy to hear your opinions on the same. Do share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Coming back to the movie, the contrasting nature of work that happens at the bird care center makes us think of the psychological impacts the workers have to go through daily. While it is not easy to help one species by killing another species, that is how life exists on this planet. And the workers seem to understand that and stay true to their devotion to birds. 

With the same mood with which the elder man teaches the narrator to shift a mice from one box to another, he teaches him how to break the neck of the mice. A doctor who takes deep care that her patient birds get cured makes sure to ask the narrator for the meat at the correct time to feed them. This aids the fact that showing kindness to one will reflect hatred on another one.

The story continues with the narrator showing us the various aspects of the bird center. The dedication with which the workers attend to the birds’ needs is so moving – the words will never convey that feeling on screen. With that clarity in mind, the director uses the power of silence throughout the movie. It ends finally with the narrator beginning to like his job (or rather service?) and the entire team giving a warm party for the senior’s retirement.

Bird Island (L'Île aux oiseaux) - a grand good-bye
Bird Island (L’Île aux oiseaux) – a grand good-bye

The ideology of Bird Island

What made me write about this movie is something that I won’t be able to convey successfully. Certain movies tend to speak directly to our hearts. We don’t bother with the poor acting, don’t bother with the camera angle, and not even bother with the slowness of the film. But the film makes us feel better. Why? It, in fact, revolves entirely on something else – the thoughts the movie tries to invoke. Now, most of the films essayed at The Art Muser tend to that, but this was more emotional.

The film doesn’t make me feel sad or happy. But it delayed my sleep by over 3 hours. The loneliness prevailing through the workers, even as they tender to the needs of the birds, got me pondering. As a race, we are getting ourselves farther and farther away from nature. We are overexploiting natural resources to the maximum extent possible. Yet nature doesn’t shy away from showering its love upon us.

The sight of those birds believing in their caretakers and the affectionate bonds they create amongst themselves are something beyond logic and science. That affection is the key to the effort made in making this movie. That affection, which is getting diminished within us, humans, is the motivation behind this movie.  

Bird Island (L'Île aux oiseaux) - Treating a bird
Bird Island (L’Île aux oiseaux) – Treating a bird

It is time that we get our bonding with nature kicking. It is high time we take nature conservation seriously. By helping the animals and plants, we are already getting closer to nature. That is the first baby step towards our sustainable bond. 

Conclusion

Bird Island (L’Île aux Oiseaux), as a movie, does just that. The narrator, unconfident at first of his help to the birds’ help care, realizes his purpose by the end of the movie. Sure, he doesn’t have an idea of what awaits in the future. But that is for his future self to bother upon. His stooped conscience gives him the power to help the birds have a nice meal while getting their treatment. The joy and satisfaction from that service are worth much more than the temporary happiness from our materialistic wishes.

Sometimes the birds return back to the centre – they prefer security to the freedom in the wild

Bird Island (L’Île aux Oiseaux)

To wind up, Bird Island (L’Île aux Oiseaux) is a documentary film that every animal lover must watch once. The movie creates a powerful echo within ourselves through its silent visuals. The chirping sounds of the birds help us calm our internal noises. Bird Island (L’Île aux Oiseaux) is indeed a poetic meditation. 

This article is a special tribute to nature and wildlife on the occasion of World Animal Day. Let us celebrate animals and nature ! ! !  


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Bird Island (L’Île aux oiseaux) trailer
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