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Les Oiseaux du ciel (Birds in Heaven)

Film Three Stars

The reading of the blurb for this film made me think that this was a look at two brothers from a small village on the Ivory Coast who follow the tradition of travelling out into the world to find their fortune, returning with it for their family and the village. One gets deported and the other manages to escape to make their way in Europe, while the film looks at how each survives.

However the film turned out slightly differently and changes its focus to mainly one brother, but it still remains an interesting film with strong comments to make.

It mainly follows Shad, played by the British actor Fraser James, the brother who escapes to Europe as he travels to London, then Paris, and finally returns home.

The other brother Otho, played by Djédjé Apali, is caught in a raid and deported home where, try as he might, he just can't escape and head back to find his fortune.

James plays the European brother very well giving a strong and pride filled performance. The actor didn't know how to speak a word of French before the film began and so he had to start learning. It was quickly realised that learning to speak French was going to be too much of a task and so he turned to learning only the lines themselves.

Each of the lines of the script was translated into English and so James would see his lines in French with the literal translation underneath. He then worked on the emotion, inflections, and accent in each of the lines. A much quicker but seemingly much harder process. Luckily there were some English lines through the script, but even then James would insist in speaking the French as much as possible.

The result is an incredibly convincing performance, and the dropping of English lines seems quite authentic given the European cities they are in and the languages that these villagers have to learn.

The French used is the French spoken throughout the Ivory Coast and this also provides a strong authenticity. The result are some interesting phrases such as "the pope's balls", which is supposedly a very Ivory Coast saying! It's this attention to the detail that makes it so authentic, as with other films the desire might be to focus the film on the intended audience rather than concentrating on the perfection of the language.

The other brother is also a very strong actor, although it does sound as though he is a more native French speaker. Unfortunately though his screen time is much shorter and we don't see enough of him.

His character returns to the village and begins to get ideas of how they could help themselves from within, rather than heading to Europe and using the Western way of life to finance their own, diluting who they are.

I found this an interesting and very positive storyline, but the film focusses far more on the brother in Europe and his attempts to integrate, become accepted and earn enough money to return home.

That said though, Shad's journey is also interesting to follow, just for different reasons. It feels much more about Europeans and Africans and how those that can and want to integrate find so much negativity and resistance. At least that's the understanding I took from it.

Shad's short term girlfriend and cover wife to be is played very well by Marie-Josée Croze. She gives a passionate and open performance and adds to the great strength of the cast.

The portrayal of the African people's beliefs, pride and their way of life is very strong and clear, and its something that comes through very strongly from this film. We also see what they don't want in the meeting between Otho and the French aid worker. It shows very clearly the pride Otho carries and his desire to do the right thing without accepting charity.

I enjoyed it. It has a lot to say and perhaps too much for just one film, what would have been great would have to had two movies, one looking at each brother and cutting back to the other for connections. However, I'm no filmmaker and the real filmmakers have made an enjoyable and educational film.

What I particularly liked about it is there's nothing made of the immigration issues which all concern us these days. We know all about what we've seen in the press and rather than cover this ground in the film or make judgements, we just see what happens from the inside out. We see the characters after they arrive or before they leave, we see the personal results of the press reports we've read about.

Overall this is a good film that shows a personal journey while telling us about the travellers from these small villages and what they believe and desire. It also gives us some reflection on Europes preconceptions and narrow minded viewpoint.

After the film there was a Q&A session, yes I've been to another public screening, and yes I do buy my own tickets, and this gave us some great insights into the film. We already heard about the British lead learning French dialogue, but there was much more.

The writer/director has filmed in Abidjan before on a few films and has spent time understanding these people and their lives. It seems as though she has a strong understanding and passion for them.

Despite that it is still classed as a war zone and therefore they couldn't raise the insuranced required. James was travelling to the beach and the police, as in many places in Africa, halt people and ask for money to get by. Luckily he was carrying a letter from the President himself and so he managed to get by without incident.

Filming took three months in three countries, budget was "incredibly low".

So far the film has only been shown in Cameroon at a film festival where it received great praise, but hasn't yet received any form of African distribution. That's quite a shame because I think it's a movie that would be extremely well received there as it puts out such a positive view of African life.

Les Oiseaux du ciel (Birds in Heaven)
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