TIFF 2021 | Drunken Birds (Ivan Grbovic, Canada)

By Angelo Muredda

With Jean-Marc Vallée tied up in American television and Denis Villeneuve bound for Arrakis, Canada’s response to the tangled international melodramas of Alejandro González Iñárritu seemingly falls to Ivan Grbovic. Grbovic follows up his understated character study Roméo Onze with the curiously schematic Drunken Birds, which marks a step up in scale but not necessarily in complexity. The film follows low-level cartel runner Willy (Jorge Antonio Guerrero) as he flees the clutches of his boss in Mexico to a precarious life as a migrant farm worker in Québec, where he awaits word from his lover (and his boss’ also-escaped wife) Marlena (Yoshira Escárrega). Grbovic and co-screenwriter Sara Mishara (more successful as the director of photography) put too much stock in the depressive romantic entanglements of Willy’s rural sojourn, which feel like inert complications included for the sake of an extended runtime. The film’s midsection in particular sags over the course of some torturously plotted tangents about the ennui and trauma suffered in both the town and the city by the farmer’s estranged wife and daughter, the latter of whom gets a disconnected, standalone segment imported from True Detective Season Two, only drained of all its pulpiness. Mishara’s cinematography does yield some indelible images, though, as in one magical-realist interlude that sees a young woman coming face to face with a Formula 1 race car at dawn on an empty city street. There’s style to spare throughout, but it’s in service of the plot machinations of cipher protagonists who suffer beautifully to no avail. 

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