Some Birds Can’t Fly

Making some 200 ecology-minded documentaries has evidently led Yugoslav helmer Petar Lalovic to the conclusion that Nature = Good, City = Bad. At least that's the thesis in his fiction feature debut, and the encompassing storyline is no more imaginatively conceived or executed. Limp family drama about a gravely ill child cared for by her reclusive mountain-man grandpa begins and ends in a mawkish flood of tears; unremarkable nature footage is sandwiched between. Sluggish effort could fill some tube time, though potential kid auds might appreciate further tightening.

Making some 200 ecology-minded documentaries has evidently led Yugoslav helmer Petar Lalovic to the conclusion that Nature = Good, City = Bad. At least that’s the thesis in his fiction feature debut, and the encompassing storyline is no more imaginatively conceived or executed. Limp family drama about a gravely ill child cared for by her reclusive mountain-man grandpa begins and ends in a mawkish flood of tears; unremarkable nature footage is sandwiched between. Sluggish effort could fill some tube time, though potential kid auds might appreciate further tightening.

A straight-A student and talented young musician, Lela (Ivana Surdic) lives with her mom, Vida (Neda Arneric), in Belgrade; dad Dushan (Miodrag Krivokapic), amicably divorced from Vida, is still an active parent. But lately the barely adolescent girl has been experiencing nosebleeds, easy bruising and fainting spells. The diagnosis is harsh: leukemia, with possibly a year’s life left, barring miracles. When no correct match turns up among immediate donors for a possible bone-marrow transplant, Vida is forced to reconcile with the father she hasn’t spoken to for over two decades.

Zdravko (Velimir Zivojinovic) has lived alone in a remote mountain cabin since Vida and her mother fled that isolation years before. His “family” now consists of livestock and adopted wild animals, including a tamed wolf. Though he proves another dead end as a bone-marrow donor, Grandpa insists he can cure Lela by herbal medicine, fresh food and removal from polluted urban life.

She’s most unhappy to traipse off with this complete stranger, leaving all creature comforts behind. But after an initial runaway attempt, the duo bond and settle into several months’ appreciation of the local flora and fauna. Mostly this consists of the actors pointing at things offscreen; then Lalovic cuts away to routine footage of bears, deer, martens, storks, etc.

Natch, after a while Lela is back in full blooming health; but her parents make a fatal error in bringing her home to the poisonous city. Grandpa storms the hospital to effect a rescue, perhaps too late. A bit of redundant melodrama — poorly staged, like everything here — has him getting shot by local poachers soon afterward. Fast-expiring Lela, doomed to a last dose of urbia, gazes at the receding forest from her parents’ car. Tears abound all around.

Though supposedly based on a true story, pic is heavy with cliches lifelessly executed. Given that a full hour or so is expended on Grandpa and Lela’s healing adventures in nature, the forest is given disappointingly little character; instead of a powerful, mystic life force, it seems like an indifferently shot petting zoo. Likewise, the few real dramatic incidents — Mom and Grandpa’s reunion, the latter’s wounding by fox trap, Lela’s near drowning — are thrown away. When in doubt, Lalovic lets the actors weep. Weep they do.

Olympian tear-duct capacities aside, the adult perfs are strictly by numbers; young Surdic is pretty but stilted. Tech aspects are fair; lensing shows enterprise only during a few ludicrously obvious sunset-filter effects.

Some Birds Can't Fly

(YUGOSLAVIAN)

Production: A Centar Film presentation of a Globus Film production, in cooperation with Avala Film, Dunav Film and Media Film. Produced by Globus Film. Directed, written by Petar Lalovic.

Crew: Camera (color), Lalovic; editor, Jelena Djokic; music, Ksenija Zecevic, sound (Dolby), Sinisa Jovanovic. Reviewed at World Film Festival, Montreal (competing), Aug. 26, 1997. Running time: 112 MIN.

With: With: Ivana Surdic, Velimir Zivojinovic, Neda Arneric, Miodrag Krivokapic, Svetlana Bojkovic, Bata Paskaljevic, Jelena Jovanovic, Milan Spicek.

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