A quest through the Slovakian forest to find a missing bird propels this charming Berlin Generation Kplus winner


Source: Berlin International Film Festival


Dir: Mira Fornay. Slovakia. 2023. 83mins

Forests are often portrayed as dark and dangerous places in child fiction, but the one in writer/director/producer/editor Mira Fornay’s fourth feature is dappled with light and packed with eccentrics rather than trouble. One thing is for sure: her young protagonist Romy (Rozmarina Willems) is going on a budgie hunt in this naturalistic charmer – and she’s not scared. 

Fornay encourages us all to get out of our cages and appreciate the sky

The Slovakian filmmaker previously won the top Tiger award at the Rotterdam Film Festival for My Dog Killer, and she’s already attracting positive attention with She-Hero, which took home the International Jury’s Generation Kplus Grand Prix in Berlin. The young age of the protagonist in her family adventure, along with its straightforward but engaging narrative, should prove attractive to further festivals – and potentially distributors – looking for wholesome stories aimed at a youth audience. The fact Fornay plans to split any profits between two children’s charities is in keeping with the child-focused nature of her film, and likely to help it gain attention.

Fornay’s seven-year-old “she-hero” displays determination from the start after she loses her pet budgie, Mimi. Unwilling to simply accept the replacement her mum (Veronika Korinkova) has bought for her, she declares she will name it “Nothing”. But a suggestion by her friend Cypko (Cyprian Sulej) that she might be able to use the new bird as a way of attracting Mimi back sets Romy striding out for the forest, cage in hand. Romy’s resilience is indicated not only by her forthright attitude but also by clever costuming choices from Natasa Stefunkova – her outfit may be in shades of pink, but the Metallica logo on her T-shirt suggests a rock and roll spirit.

As she enters the forest, a sense of threat is briefly suggested by the sound of the wind in the grass – but it soon turns out that its denizens are plentiful and mostly harmless. Romy’s hunt unfolds in episodic fashion as she encounters a colourful set of characters, from a cat-owning quarry worker who makes her change her mind about “Nobody” to a woman who is also wandering the woods when she shouldn’t be. Along the way, Romy will also run into a homeless woman with a riddle and a  “bad dog”. Although the sheer number of characters leads the flow to be a little uneven in places – and makes you wonder if there is anybody left outside the forest – the offbeat appeal of these encounters means there’s rarely a dull moment. 

The film’s quirkiness is further underlined by the occasional woodwind score from Michal Kindernay, which has a free-spirited jazzy feel. Fornay also slyly references the general busy nature of things during one of Romy’s grumpier encounters, when an old man tells her: “Normally it’s quiet here, now it’s like Lidl.” 

The emphasis is on Romy’s perspective. Cinematographer Simona Weisslechner’s camera frequently adopts the little girl’s point of view, so that we notice what she does – often nature-related, including specific trees and a lost trainer that has been colonised by moss and insects. The use of natural light also means that we get a sense of the day passing as the shadows begin to deepen, but the sheer number of people kicking about reinforces the idea that this is an enjoyable adventure rather than something that will put Fornay’s protagonist in the way of any harm. Romy will learn some gentle lessons about valuing what you’ve got but the focus is on her resourceful attitude as she tackles the day on her own terms. Fornay encourages us all to get out of our cages and appreciate the sky.

Production companies: Mirafox, RTVS

International sales: Mirafox, contact@mirafox.sk

Producer/screenplay/editing: Mira Fornay

Cinematography: Simona Weisslechner

Production design: Zuzana Czaková

Music: Michal Kindernay

Main cast: Rozmarina Willems, Cyprian Sulej, Veronika Korinkova, Roman Lipka, Bohuslav Zarychta