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Birds of September – Review


The title of lebanese-born Sarah Francis’s film-debut suggests that the main theme of the film is movement, evoking thoughts about migratory birds searching for warmer territories in the cold Autumn months. Quite possibly a familiar wish of the CPH:DOX spectators, who’ll instead begin to search in the farthest parts of their dressers for their warm winter coats.

Birds of September is also the title of an Arabic novel from 1962 by Touyour Ayloul describing the saga of village people in Beirut who witness their loved ones depart for far away more promising lands and countries.

The film is, like the novel, set in the streets of Beirut. We are introduced to the city through a slow moving camera, passing buildings and shopfronts that look neglected, while equally sprawling with life. We see the city through what initially appears to be a car window, which for someone unfamiliar with small advertising vans often used in the streets of Beirut, seems like an unusual mobile, glass bubble, protecting us from the outside world.

The ‘bubble’ turns into a confession room for random locals who bluntly speak about their life experiences, while ‘floating’ through the city in the vehicle. It seems like Francis’ camera is constantly searching for something, lurking behind the window, zooming in on different people outside. It’s like the camera wants to get to know these people, while at the same time keeps a distance to them. Maybe this is Francis’ experience of living in a big city, where you can live next to people for several years, without really knowing who they are?

Inside the ‘confession bubble’ outside noise fades, creating a very intimate, isolated environment. The confessions create a closeness between you and the locals as you get to know them and their lives. The confessions are desynchronised with the images of the people inside the confession bubble, challenging us to synchronise them in our imagination. The film’s poetic logic portrays the architecture of Beirut and random people’s movement as a story of a city, the story of a people and the personal story of Sarah Francis. Francis’ story seems to be one of longing for change, being afraid of standing still, and a comment on the swifts of time while people move in different paces.

You are left with a feeling of familiarity to the city of Beirut, but distance to it as well. Maybe this is symbolising Francis’ own feelings toward her home, and how she’s travelled to the point of no return – being close, yet far from it. You also sense a fear of getting stuck in a city, but also in life. As we float through the city, we feel like floating through life. The film is beautiful and poetic, while at the same time very real. It deals with modern issues such as stress, death and self-discovering. It’s a personal journey that translates to everyone who have a longing for exploring new places — spiritual as well as physical ones.
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