Rough-hewn “Bird-Man Tale” has the distinction of being the only feature shot on Irian Jaya, a tiny island near Papua, New Guinea. Picturesque pic combines native myth with docu-style depiction of political upheaval and religious life, intercut with tales of adolescent romance. Its purposely naive qualities help compensate for relatively dreary pacing, and OK vid-to-35mm transfer should help get pic further onto fest circuit.
Main story concerns Arnold (Octavianus Rysiat), a jug-eared island boy who develops an immediate crush on Kasih (Lulu Tobing), a beautiful Indonesian woman who seems to be in mourning. And there’s plenty to mourn when Theys H. Eluay, a real-life Nelson Mandela figure in local politics, is murdered in his jail cell — an event that actually happened in 2001, as seen here in news clips.
Arnold’s father (Adi Kurdi), a dancer and part-time freedom fighter, goes into hiding in the hills, wearing a costume disguising him as a cassowary, symbol of the island and bird of the title.
Original title translates as “I Only Wanted to Kiss You One Time,” capturing the doggedly poetic tone of project, which has numerous characters writing lovelorn poetry (or excerpts of the Bible’s “Song of Solomon”) in their diaries. Wearying effect is of a series of monologues rather than an ensemble work.
Attractive female lead spends a lot of time crying, but we don’t learn why, exactly, or why she’s susceptible to Arnold’s entreaties.
Christina-influenced choral music is striking at first, but feels heavyhanded after the 10th go-round. Director Nugroho, who had a small hit with “A Poet,” may feel some heat from his depiction of Indonesian bully-boy tactics.