A cinematic cri de coeur from a nation in physically and psychologically dire straits.
A straightforward but pretty effective parable shot in smudgy wobblecam, “Boy Eating the Bird’s Food” isn’t part of the current Greek Weird Wave so much as it is a cinematic cri de coeur from a nation in physically and psychologically dire straits. Feature debut by theater helmer Ektoras Lygizos pursues the titular protag, who has a beautiful singing voice but is reduced to foraging for food or facing starvation. Pic should be highly in demand at fests committed to sociopolitically relevant fare, though an explicit scene of semen eating will make this a daring choice for theatrical release offshore.
The parallels between the unemployed, boyish counter-tenor Yorgos (Yannis Papadopoulos) and his pet canary are obvious; both pretty creatures with a talent for song face identically grim predicaments. With no real means of survival, they will have to rely on someone either feeding them or opening their cage to set them free.
Following Yorgos around very closely, with innumerable closeups and shaky handheld lensing, Lygizos is more interested in observation than explanation. With the boy alone for most of the time, there aren’t a lot of opportunities for explicatory dialogue, and when, early on, Yorgos sings a piece of Bach at an (unsuccessful) audition, he’s unable to understand what the German words mean, reducing even his singing to noise.
That said, the story, which essentially transposes Knut Hamsun’s “Hunger” to 21st-century Athens, is not that hard to figure out or follow, as Yorgos tries to keep himself from starving with no money left for food or his water bills, sending him into a neighbor’s apartment and finally onto the street, with only his equally hungry songbird for company (they sometimes share sustenance, hence the title).
As an allegory for the state of Greece today, “Boy,” which follows in the footsteps of other Hellenic crisis-themed films such as “Wasted Youth,” is at once the starkest and most successful audiovisual exploration of a nation that feels it has been kept as a perhaps beautiful but useless pet by a government and/or political system that is now unable to sustain even its subjects’ most basic needs.
The underlying idea that poverty can be castrating and negatively influence self-worth, crippling the capacity to even communicate or ask for help, comes through loud and clear. Still, some late-in-the-game scenes, set inside a church, come dangerously close to self-parody.
As Yorgos, Papadopoulos is well cast and fully committed; the scene that will no doubt generate the most discussion showcases his character’s desperate, almost cannibalistic attempt to still his hunger by producing and then eating his own sperm. But throughout, the non-pro — who, with his baby-blue eyes, reddish hair and fair complexion, looks handsome but also extremely unsuited to the hot Greek climate — finds exactly the right balance between the tenacity afforded him by his survival instincts and the vulnerability and delirium caused by his constant hunger pangs.
Shot by d.p. Dimitris Kassimatis on the Canon 5D hybrid photo/video camera, the image is deliberately somewhat grungy yet retains a slight softness of focus that beautifully contrasts with the harsh reality the film depicts. Other tech credits are adequate.