Birdy (1984)

ALAN PARKER

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.5

USA, 1984. , . Screenplay by , , based on the novel by . Cinematography by . Produced by . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Al () has his face covered in bandages after being burned on the battlefield in Vietnam, treated to a brief recuperation before transferring to another hospital that has sent for him. His best friend “Birdy” (played by ) has recovered from minor physical wounds but is psychologically damaged by his experience in battle, refusing to speak, hardly eating and perching himself in his room as if he believes he has turned into one of his beloved avian creatures.

Al’s attempts to break through Birdy’s silence prompts flashbacks to their first becoming friends as teenagers in the rough neighbourhoods of 1950s Philadelphia, beginning when Al mistakenly thinks Birdy stole his kid brother’s knife and goes after him to get it back, and ends up becoming buddies with him instead. Birdy is a loner and social misfit, he doesn’t play baseball with the other kids and spends most of his free time obsessing over birds, first with the pigeons in his backyard coop before his mother destroys it, and then by breeding canaries in his room.

While Al chases girls, Birdy tries to figure out a way to learn how to fly and become a bird himself, hoping to lift himself out of the misery of a difficult home life in poverty and his mother’s careworn hardness, but in the present we discover that what he witnessed in war has destroyed whatever was reasonable in a boy who was already too sensitive for his surroundings.

Sometimes the notes that director Alan Parker harps on are a bit too dour, at other times too soapy, and some elements ring undeniably false (there’s very little actual footage that takes place in Vietnam and, in contrast to host of films being made around this time and set in that war, they all look like they were shot at Busch Gardens).

At the heart of this very moving drama, though, is a touching tale of a genuine friendship between two characters you cannot help but adore: Birdy is never anything less than his fully authentic, awkward self, and Al is never less than totally devoted to him, and the passion that the latter has for helping his friend out of his darkness is an emotional anchor that grabs your heart and never lets it go.

Cannes Film Festival Award: Grand Prize of the Jury

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