Dir/scr: Gust Van der Berghe. Belgium. 2011. 86mins


Belgian director Gust Van der Berghe’s beautifully shot African folk tale is a charmingly enigmatic story of two young children, a blue bird and some thoughtful meditations on life, death and everything in between, all set against the stunning backdrop of the plains of Togo in West Africa.

Blue Bird is a deliberately arty ‘road movie’, at its best when graceful and engaging, but always watchable with its rich of colour and composition.

Based on Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1909 play set in Russia, this film adaptation is more about the colour blue than it is about the bird or the children. Shot in elegantly composed scope, den Berghe uses a range of the colour to give the film a dream-like quality which fits neatly with its rambling story.

At a certain level, Blue Bird very simply tells the story of two young siblings – charming non-actors brother and sister Bafiokadie and Tene Potey – who play in their dusty home with a blue bird. Their mother calls them to be bathed, and despite Bafiokadie’s instruction the bird wanders away from their village.

The pair head off in pursuit, their rambling journey bringing them in contact with their dead grandparents (gentle and well-meaning ghosts); a group of bullies who taunt Tene and their motorcycling carpenter father who is supposed to be hauling a wooden coffin but prefers to spend his time sleeping under a tree.

The blue bird itself proves to be more than a little elusive – though they do find other birds – but then their journey into a confusing adult world is both real and allegorical. What is most striking about Blue Bird, though, is the beautifully composed scenes, with cinematographer Hans Bruch Jr often using long shots to emphasise the wide, barren, landscape and allowing small occurrences to happen to the side of the frame.

As with his debut film Little Baby Jesus of Flandr (which premiered at Cannes last year) the film can be rather inaccessible at times, and would certainly be a challenge for formal distribution, but it would not be out of place at other festivals or even in a gallery space.

The two youngsters are quite charming in their innocent enthusiasm and stoical nature, and there is a moment of charm when they finally return home and their mother bathes them again. But when she tries to dress them she finds their clothes are now too small – these may be the same children, but they have ‘grown’ and changed in more subtle ways. Blue Bird is a deliberately arty ‘road movie’, at its best when graceful and engaging, but always watchable with its rich of colour and composition.

Production companies: Minds Meet, Coproduction Office

International sales: Coproduction Office, www.coproductionoffice.eu

Producers: Tomas Leyers, Caroline Strubbe

Cinematography: Hans Bruch Jr

Production designer: Nils Valkenborgh

Editor: David Verdurme

Music: Alexander Zhikarev

Main cast: Bafiokadié Potey, Téné Potey, Nanty Libéria Bani, Dodji N’Dah, N’Tcha Emmanuel Sansamou