Realised after ten years of silence, Xawery Żuławski’s film will delight some and irritate others. 'Bird Talk', a tribute to the director’s father, leaves no room for indifference.
When, a few months before his death, Andrzej Żuławski presented his son with his last script, it was not certain to Xawery Żuławski that he would make a film based on it. After his father’s death, he decided to face the text left behind. This is how Bird Talk came to be – a tribute paid to a father by his son and a moving story about a world plunged into mediocrity.
In the film, we are guided by freaks, people who do not fit in with everyday life. A teacher (Sebastian Pawlak) terrorised by fascist students, a writer looking for inspiration (Sebastian Fabijański), a young outsider (Katarzyna Chojnacka) in love with cinema, and finally a composer (Eryk Kulm) suffering from leprosy. They are marginalised people, not fit to live in a world ruled by aggression, kitsch, and intellectual simplification.
Their stories cannot be summarised. The fictional crumbs scattered by the creator of Possession do not form a coherent, linear story. Bird Talk is more of an impressionist jigsaw puzzle in which a subjective vision takes precedence over mediocre realism.
The Żuławskis show the world through a glass darkly. They use the media coverage of a teacher intimidated by students to show the growing strength of Polish nationalism. They tell a story of thriving aggression against everything alien. However, Bird Talk is not only a story about the demons of Polish nationalism. The Żuławskis’ mirror also reflects class relations prevailing in Polish society and the dwarfish world of contemporary art, ruled by glitter, opportunism, and intellectual emptiness.
In his last screenplay, Andrzej Żuławski dealt with what annoys and hurts him. At times, he hits the nail on the head, at other times he strikes out blindly and hesitantly. Bird Talk gives the impression of a film notebook in which the dying director jotted down his thoughts. He talks about religion as a factor that enslaves Poles; about anti-Semitism; about commercialisation and class divisions defining social conflict.
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Still from 'Bird Talk' dir. Xawery Żuławski, 2019, picturing Sebastian Pawlak, photo: Velvet Spoon
In interviews, the director admits that although he knows that each of the scenes written by his father could be the basis for a doctoral thesis, he read the text intuitively. However, he does not deprive it of historical and cultural references. The protagonists talk about Czesław Niemen’s songs and Polański’s Two Men and a Wardrobe, while the father depicted in the film tests his son’s knowledge of Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces and musical classics. We can even hear the song Dziewczyna Zła (An Evil Girl) – a symbol of the collapse of contemporary art which Andrzej Żuławski created a few decades earlier with Andrzej Korzyński.
Korzyński’s music also illustrates Bird Talk. During the making of the film, Żuławski reached out to his father’s long-time collaborators and friends. Apart from the excellent composer, the crew also included Andrzej J. Jaroszewicz, a cinematographer who worked with Andrzej Żuławski on seven films. Thanks to them, references to classic films by Andrzej Żuławski appear on the screen. The jacket stretched over Sebastian Fabijański’s head brings The Devil to mind, Jaśmina Polak’s expressive dance is taken straight out of Possession, as is the camera that follows the hero out of his apartment to the street.
contemporary polish film
Xawery Żuławski pays homage to his father the artist but also to art itself. Bird Talk is a story about the power of cinema – it allows us to rewrite reality in our own handwriting, extracting that which is invisible at the first glance. The younger Żuławski expresses his praise of artistic freedom, of which his father was once an exemplar.
Żuławski’s expressive, somewhat mannered film gets its energy from its actors. Sebastian Fabijański, who had played smaller roles in recent years, shows his true potential as an actor. Eryk Kulm, playing the role of the leprous composer, Andrzej Chyra as a one-eyed painter and Jaśmina Polak as a young maid, are also excellent. Released into their element and liberated from limitations, they bring an energy to the screen that drives Bird Talk.
Thanks to them, Xawery Żuławski’s film turns out to be a moving tribute to one of the most original Polish filmmakers and a manifesto of artistic freedom. Xawery Żuławski’s brutal, difficult film is not for everyone but it also does not leave anyone indifferent.
- Bird Talk. Director: Xawery Żuławski. Screenplay: Andrzej Żuławski. Cinematography: Andrzej J. Jaroszewicz. Music: Andrzej Korzyński. Starring: Sebastian Fabijański, Eryk Kulm, Jaśmina Polak, Andrzej Chyra, Daniel Olbrychski, Sebastian Pawlak. Premiere: 1st August 2019.
Originally written in Polish by Bartosz Staszczyszyn, tranlated by P. Grabowski, October 2019
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