Produced, directed, written, edited by Mikael Kristersson. As technically agile as it is aesthetically austere, Swedish helmer Mikael Kristersson’s “Kestrel’s Eye” does for birds what David Lynch’s “Straight Story” does for old men. Shot with four cameras over 2 1/2 years, the film focuses on the daily routines of two highly observant European falcons, and does so without the aid of such nature-film mainstays as narration and music. While not for everyone, this experiment remains engaging thanks to Kristersson’s technical virtuosity on every level of filmmaking, from cinematography to editing to sound mixing. Fueled by glowing reviews, this Swedish curio — currently completing a weeklong run at Gotham’s Film Forum — could become an arthouse favorite among both film purists and nature buffs.
“Kestrel’s Eye” is not so much a documentary as it is a narrative feature starring real-life creatures. Kristersson is just as interested in what the birds see from their perch atop a 13th-century church steeple as he is in what they do in their nest; bird’s-eye views of humans figure as prominently as do shots of the birds hunting mice and hatching eggs.
Through Kristersson’s lens, these brown-and-gray speckled birds view the humans below them with a poet’s eyes. They watch as the groundskeeper quietly tends the church’s tidy cemetery, as young boys fidget in a long choir procession and as a brass band and color guard parade through the sleepy hamlet for no apparent reason.
Whether it is capturing the five falcon eggs hatching in the nest or the male kestrel swooping down on a field mouse, Kristersson’s camerawork is steady, precise and intimate. And while his cinematography was nominated for a Swedish Oscar, it is his editing that is truly extraordinary.
In what could be a textbook on how to construct a story without plot or dialogue, Kristersson pieces together a cohesive narrative about two animals’ quest for survival and proliferation in an indifferent world. The sound mix is no less impressive, with Kristersson including car alarms, children’s laughter and cow moos as well as the twittering of the birds. One only wishes the kestrels’ staccato bleats, which sound something like unoiled bicycle breaks, were a tad more mellifluous.