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With: n/a
Written by: n/a
Directed by: Mikael Kristersson
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 89
Date: 05/01/2001

Kestrel's Eye (2000)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Bird's Eye View

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Anyone over a certain age probably saw Disney's amazing documentary The Living Desert (1953) in school, if not on television. That movie is notable for its close-up photography of animal life in action but suffered from its cuddly point of view and inane narration. Now comes Kestrel's Eye, an equally amazing movie with a more grown-up approach.

Kestrel's Eye, which opens at the Roxie today for a week's run, is a Swedish documentary without a lick of dialogue or narration. It takes place on top of a church overlooking a graveyard. A family of kestrels (small falcons) lives in a nook on the roof. The movie covers their entire breeding cycle, in which a male and female meet, mate, and have children.

The movie doesn't provide any real scientific information about the birds, but we learn a great deal just from observing. They hover over a field, waiting for the right moment, then swoop down and snatch a stray mouse for food. We see that the mother only lays one egg at a time, instead of a whole batch. And rather than the mother sitting on the eggs all the time, the father takes over the sitting duties while the mother hunts her own food. Eventually, we see the babies learning how to fly by flapping from surface to surface on the old church.

Director Mikael Kristersson shoots with secret cameras and microphones mounted inside and on the roof of the church. As a result, the entire point of view of the film is from above. The kestrels (and the camera) watch as human workers carefully tend the graveyard below, sweeping pebbles back into formation, like in a Japanese garden. We see joggers and people attending weddings and funerals. We can hear them chatting in Swedish, but, as in Jacques Tati's films, the dialogue is only background noise. The only music we hear comes from the church itself. Most of the soundtrack is filled with kestrels cooing and clucking at each other.

The effect of this is that the kestrels seem to be watching us. Yet, at the same time, we in the audience are watching them in their most private moments. And there's not that much difference between the two. They follow their rituals as we do ours (the wedding and the funeral). The kestrels seem to be amused by workers trying to keep the graves below tidy; man continuing his daily fight against the chaos of nature.

But the movie's strengths are also its drawbacks. Without narration, Kestrel's Eye has no plot or no characters. Indeed, unless you are a bird fanatic, you may have a hard time telling the male bird from the female bird... much less read any personality into them. And it's a lot to ask for an audience to sit for 86 minutes watching birds. And although it's a perfect movie for kids, they will be bored quickly. Nonetheless, Kestrel's Eye is a one-of-a-kind film and a lovely achievement.

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