×

Film Review: ‘The Messenger’

This cinematic survey roams the planet to highlight various songbird-related issues, checking in with scientific experts and other interested parties en route.

With:
Michael Mesure, Peter Marra, Dominik Eulberg, Frederic Jiguet, Andrea Rutigliano, Alejandra Martinez-Salinas, Christy Morrissey, Erin Bayne, Cagan Haggi Sekercioglu, Bridget Stutchbury, Bill Evans, Andrew Farnsworth, Martin Wikelski, Eugene Morton. (English, French, German, Dutch dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4984930/

The status of songbirds worldwide provides another barometer for measuring unsettling ecological changes in “The Messenger.” Su Rynard’s feature, with its episodic overview of various interconnected issues around the globe, lacks the unifying emotional and narrative involvement of the best nature documentaries. But it’s an informative journey sure to appeal in particular to birdwatchers when Kino Lorber launches its U.S. theatrical release on Dec. 4. Tube sales should be hale in numerous territories.

This cinematic survey roams the planet to highlight various songbird-related issues, invariably checking in with scientific experts and other interested parties en route. We learn about Toronto activists who’ve drastically cut collision deaths by placing small markers on mirrored or clear-glass building surfaces that birds otherwise can’t perceive; a fight between hunters and preservationists over the ortolan bunting, still a culinary delicacy despite its trapping being declared illegal in 1999; and monitors at a 9/11 memorial in New York, making sure that a temporary light sculpture doesn’t confuse birds at the height of migration season.

It’s estimated that about 20 billion birds migrate each year, of which roughly half survive; some succumb to predators like domestic cats, typed here as an “invasive species” that have upset ecological balances everywhere they’ve been introduced. We see the impact of drastic deforestation in Costa Rica, where only 15% of forest lands that existed in 1945 remain today, and note the result of Mao’s 1957 “Four Pests” campaign, which eliminated tree sparrows to save grain — only to find that the insects they were no longer around to consume then devoured crops, triggering an eventual 30 million human deaths.

Elsewhere, climate change-induced drought shrinks bird habitats in Turkey, while worldwide manmade noise makes it increasingly difficult for birds to communicate, creating another means of avian population decrease. In addition to input from researchers, activists, farmers and others, we also drop in on Dominik Eulberg, a German composer/DJ who interpolates birdsong and other natural sounds in dance tracks.

As has long been noted, our feathered friends often provide “canary in a coal mine” early warnings as to the impacts and perils of environmental changes — and the dramatic shifts in their populations and behaviors over recent decades is ominous indeed. Still, “The Messenger” is more diverting than urgent, never sticking with a theme or character long enough to impress the significance of its ideas as powerfully as perhaps they deserve.

The pro package’s most distinctive stylistic aspect is the recurrent shots of birds flying in slow-motion against pure-black backgrounds, shot in an avian research center’s artificial wind tunnel (which scientists use to closely study bird aerodynamics). Phil Strong’s original score alternates between Philip Glass-like instrumental passages and ethereal female choral interludes.

Film Review: 'The Messenger'

Reviewed online, San Francisco, Oct. 17, 2015. (In Hot Docs, Mill Valley film festivals.) Running time: 90 MIN.

Production: (Documentary — Canada-France) A Kino Lorber (in U.S.) review of a SongbirdSOS Prods. and Films a Cinq presentation. (International sales: ZED Films, Paris.) Produced by Joanne P. Jackson, Sally Blake, Martin de la Fouchardiere, Diane Woods, Su Rynard.

Crew: Directed by Su Rynard. Written by Sally Blake, Rynard. Camera (color, HD), Daniel Grant, Amar Ahrab; editor, Eamonn O’Connor; music, Phil Strong; sound, Jason Milligan, Dominique Kerboeuf; sound designer/supervising sound editor, Strong; re-recording mixers, Daniel Pellerin, Christopher Guglick; animation/visual effects, Mark Alberts.

With: Michael Mesure, Peter Marra, Dominik Eulberg, Frederic Jiguet, Andrea Rutigliano, Alejandra Martinez-Salinas, Christy Morrissey, Erin Bayne, Cagan Haggi Sekercioglu, Bridget Stutchbury, Bill Evans, Andrew Farnsworth, Martin Wikelski, Eugene Morton. (English, French, German, Dutch dialogue)

More Film

  • Olmo Teodoro Cuaron, Alfonso Cuaron and

    Alfonso Cuarón Tells Why His Scoreless 'Roma' Prompted an 'Inspired' Companion Album

    Back around the ‘90s, “music inspired by the film” albums got a bad name, as buyers tired of collections full of random recordings that clearly were inspired by nothing but the desire to use movie branding to launch a hit song. But Alfonso Cuarón, the director of “Roma,” is determined to find some artistic validity [...]

  • berlin film festival placeholder berlinale

    Berlin Film Festival 2019 Award Winners: Complete List

    The 69th Berlin Film Festival kicked off on Saturday, with 16 films vying for the Golden and Silver Bears, among them such critically acclaimed entries as Wang Xiaoshuai’s Chinese drama “So Long, My Son” and “By the Grace of God” by François Ozon. Juliette Binoche served as Jury President, with other members of the jury [...]

  • Alita Battle Angel

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel,' 'Lego Movie 2' to Lead President's Day Weekend

    “Alita: Battle Angel” is holding a slim lead ahead of “Lego Movie 2’s” second frame with an estimated four-day take of $29.1 million from 3,790 North American locations. “Lego Movie 2: The Second Part,” meanwhile, is heading for about $25 million for a domestic tally of around $66 million. The two films lead the pack [...]

  • Marianne Rendon, Matt Smith, Ondi Timoner

    Robert Mapplethorpe Biopic Team Talks 'Fast and Furious' Filming

    Thursday night’s New York premiere of the Matt Smith-led biopic “Mapplethorpe” took place at Cinépolis Chelsea, just steps from the Chelsea Hotel where the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe once lived — but director Ondi Timoner had no sense of that legacy when she first encountered him in a very different context. “When I was ten [...]

  • Bruno GanzSwiss Film Award in Geneva,

    Bruno Ganz, Star of 'Downfall' and 'Wings of Desire,' Dies at 77

    Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor best known for dramatizing Adolf Hitler’s final days in 2004’s “Downfall,” has died. He was 77. Ganz died at his home in Zurich on Friday, his representatives told media outlets. The cause of death was reportedly colon cancer. More Reviews Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink' Film [...]

  • Steve Bannon appears in The Brink

    Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink'

    Stephen K. Bannon drinks Kombucha (who knew?), the fermented tea beverage for health fanatics that tastes like…well, if they ever invented a soft drink called Germs, that’s what Kombucha tastes like. In “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall, rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-a-white-nationalist documentary, Bannon explains that he likes Kombucha because it gives him a lift; he drinks it for [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content