Elizabeth Schuch’s remarkable feature film debut “The Book of Birdie” is a strangely beautiful and powerful film — a stunning cinematic achievement.
Wow. I don’t know if I can do justice to The Book of Birdie, but I’m going to do my best.
Birdie (Ilirida Memedovski) is a young woman left at a convent by her grandmother (Kathryn Browning). It is apparent that something has happened to make the grandmother feel she needs to do this, and we learn later that it was most likely sexual in nature as Birdie miscarries quietly in her room.
Birdie doesn’t seem to quite understand what is happening to her, and she keeps the fetus pickled in a jar, names it Ignatius and creates a shrine to it. This seems to open up a fascination with her blood and with death. She also sees and talks to nuns who have taken their own lives at the convent.
Despite its gothic tone and the horror elements, The Book of Birdie never feels like a horror film.
It feels more like a coming of age story about a repressed girl mixing up what is going on with her body with the religious imagery surrounding her. Add to that the discovery of her own sexuality in a budding relationship with the groundskeeper’s daughter Julia (Kitty Fenn), and the visions she keeps having. Birdie is obviously a young woman on the verge, but on the verge of what?
And this is where I don’t feel like I, as an old, white dude, can adequately review The Book of Birdie.
Despite having raised four daughters, I can not begin to understand what it means to be a teenage girl and grasp the feelings Birdie is going through or even necessarily understand what the message that the filmmaker is trying to get across. Is it an anti-religious statement? Pro-religion? Is it a message about what it means to be a young woman in 2018? I don’t know, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the film.
In fact, I loved it. I was completely captivated. It is brilliant and fascinating with stellar performances. It is also one of the most gorgeous films I’ve ever seen.
So much of the movie is focused on Birdie, and in her first feature role, Ilirida Memedovski gives an truly amazing performance. When I say much of the movie is focused on Birdie, I mean that literally. For a huge chunk of the film, the camera is inches from her face. You can’t hide from the camera, especially when it’s that close, and Memedovski is perfect in every scene, imbuing Birdie with innocence and humor and curiosity.
The other star of this film is the cinematography. Filmed at an old mansion on the shore of Lake Michigan in winter, the film is gritty and desolate and beautiful. In his first role as cinematographer, visual effects artist Konstantinos Koutsoliotas proves he is going to be a force to be reckoned with behind the camera. From the gorgeous exterior shots to the beatific close-ups, The Book of Birdie is visually stunning.
First time director Elizabeth Schuch, who co-wrote the film with Anami Tara Shucart, does a masterful job of weaving the story together, painting a beautiful tapestry, and getting just the right performances from her cast.
And remember her name. Ilirida Memedovski. You will be hearing it again.