It’s not often you find a great film that is truly meant for all ages and works; most kids’ films these days are a formulaic combination of a dumbed-down plot (the assumption being that kids can’t handle anything more complex) and a tacked-on moral about believing in yourself, with a bunch of pop-culture references to keep parents from falling asleep during the movie.
Olivier Ringer’s Les Oiseaux de Passage ignores all that and gives us a legit piece of cinema that just happens to center around two young girls and a duck; the subject might appeal to kids, but the storytelling is mature and adult. With subtle craft, Ringer puts us in the shoes of a 10-year-old named Cathy, whose divorced parents couldn’t be more opposite- her father is a quirky misfit who gives her a duck egg for her birthday, much to the chagrin of her more mainstream mother. At Cathy’s birthday party, one friend happens to be in the room when the duck hatches: Margaux, a disabled and wheelchair-bound girl who forms an instant bond with this new creature.
Things get a lot more complicated from that point forward, but the beauty of the film is how we see it all through these two girls’ eyes who have already learned enough about life to not be phased by all the B.S. adults create and dump onto their innocent laps. For all the cheap talk and shoddy attempts at creating movies and TV shows with strong female characters that teach girls empowerment, pretty much all of them (at least on the American side) fail miserably, instead delivering one-dimensional female protagonists who can be described as “spunky” and “natural-born-leaders” but have all the character depth of cardboard. They would learn a lot from this Belgian film, that so effortlessly delivers truly interesting people that just happen to still be in grade school.
Compared to them, all the adults are, well, adults- decidedly less impressive humans full of all their ridiculous obsessions and neuroses. Even the duck itself gets more street cred here, helping deliver the simple message about what’s actually important in life, a message that actually goes over the adults’ heads themselves. Kudos to the cast, however, who all do an incredible job of embodying their characters with a natural and convincing delivery- especially our two young protagonists. Poignant but not sappy, and often legitimately funny, Les Oiseaux de Passage is ultimately a sweet film, but like so many European films, it pulls no punches- the sweetness has dirt and a couple of bruised ribs mixed in for good measure.
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