‘Bird’ Review: Andrea Arnold’s Dabble With Fantasy Offers A Sunlit Ray Of Hope In A Bleak Existence – Cannes Film Festival

‘Bird’ Review: Andrea Arnold’s Dabble With Fantasy Offers A Sunlit Ray Of Hope In A Bleak Existence – Cannes Film Festival

Andrea Arnold was last in Cannes with Cow in 2021, a documentary about a bovine’s pitiful existence on a farm from birth to death. Her new film, Bird, might switch animal classifications — and return her to narrative features about human beings — but there’s connective tissue between the two. Once more, Arnold is perfecting her meandering journey through marginalized existences.

This time, we’re in Gravesend, in Kent, a estuary town east of London, in the dying days of summer, when the grass has yellowed but the sweaty heat hasn’t quite abated. Bailey (Nykiya Adams) is a 12-year-old mixed-race girl who is old beyond her years, as everyone in her chaotic community seems to be. Her father Bug (Barry Keoghan) is barely twice her age; her 14-year-old half brother Hunter (Jason Buda) is a masked vigilante, teaming up with a similarly pint-sized gang to take revenge against anyone they hear has beaten their spouse or mistreated their kids.

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Bug is bugged out, in a sense that might shock social services if ever they cared to visit the squat in which he is raising his dysfunctional family; but these are people too peripheral even for any governmental agency to bother with. Bug is getting married to Kayleigh (Frankie Box) and he is far too preoccupied trying to raise money for his upcoming nuptials — by finding the right kind of music to play to a hallucinogenic toad so it will produce slime he can sell — to pay much mind to his wayward daughter. (Hilariously, Keoghan dismisses the possibility that “Murder on the Dance Floor” passes for good music.)

Bird (Franz Rogowski) appears to Bailey in a flush of wind in the middle of a field of horses. “It’s beautiful,” he comments about the rising sun in the distance. “What?” replies Bailey brusquely. Beauty has no place here. But there is something about Bird, who prances in front of Bailey’s cellphone camera in a long skirt, and then starts surveying her tenement building perched on neighboring rooftops. He is kind to her; she has no experience of such a thing, so she barely recognizes it. But she can’t help but be drawn to him.


Bird is ostensibly on a search for his missing father, and while she fronts reluctance to him, Bailey is clearly champing at the bit to aid in the search. Her mum might know something, but a visit to her house, where she lives with Bailey’s three younger siblings, leads only to a confrontation with her mother’s abusive new boyfriend. Bleakness comes in spades throughout the first hour of Arnold’s film, but Bailey’s face holds our attention until little cracks of hope start to creep in.

With Arnold working once more with Robbie Ryan, who shoots the film through vintage 16mm glass, the film’s burnt magic hour visuals paint even this dreary mess of council estates and shuttered waterside cafés in a kind of desperately optimistic glow. It is in Rogowski’s captivating performance as Bird, measured in beatific smiles and quirkiness, but also in occasional nods to a darker side that is ever primed to defend, that the film becomes a redemption tale. Through Bird, Bailey will find her place in a world determined to overlook her.

Keoghan, too, paints Bug as a flawed but ultimately loveable father figure. Bailey bristles at his hasty nuptials — we’re left to wonder how many times she’s heard the same from her dad — but though he neglects her and her brother, he is there for his kids when it counts. “I’d have been better off without ya,” he tells them, and he’s unquestionably right. “But I love youse two.”

Arnold knows just how to get under our skin. If we struggle to settle into all this misery to begin with, by the end we’re as invested as we could be. It was that way with Fish Tank and American Honey too; a jolt of culture shock that makes way for universal human truths. Here, more confident in her storytelling, she embellishes with fantastical elements we won’t spoil. Whether they’re really happening, or part of Bailey’s childlike desperation to believe in anything magical, the film doesn’t make clear. That’s for us to decide, but Arnold certainly wants us to know one thing by the end: Bailey will be OK.

Title: Bird
Festival: Cannes (Competition)
Director: Andrea Arnold
Cast: Barry Keoghan, Franz Rogowski, Jason Buda, Jasmine Jobson, James Nelson Joyce, Frankie Box, Nykiya Adams
Sales agent: Cornerstone Films
Running time: 1 hr 59 min

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