The Metamorphosis of Birds
Director Catarina Vasconcelos’ family history forms the basis of this compelling, visually intoxicating blend of documentary and drama.
The filmmaker’s grandfather, Henrique, was a Portuguese sailor. While away from home, he wrote letters to his family, but upon his death, in accordance with his wishes, his children burned them. Initially focussing on the recollections of family members, including her grandmother, Vasconcelos’ recalls the lives of previous generations, and how they interacted with the world around them. But acting upon the advice of a relative, ‘when you can’t remember, invent’, Vasconcelos expands her vision, creating a world inspired by, but not chained to, the past. Her approach frees the film from any specific genre or style, resulting in a work of luminosity and creative imagination. The family, through references to Portugal’s colonial history, come to be seen as one example of a wider culture, which Vasconcelos celebrates in all its richness and diversity. It’s a marvel of cinematic invention and evidence of a medium that is still capable of surprise.