BIRD

May 17, 2024

barry keoghan, bird, andrea arnold, cannes, hollywood authentic

Words by JANE CROWTHER


British filmmaker Andrea Arnold is beloved by the Cannes Film Festival. She has won the Jury prize three times for her movies Red Road, Fish Tank and American Honey, the 2016 film that makes her last fiction feature. Now she’s back in Cannes competition with Bird, a quietly moving tale that might best be described as a mix of social realism and fable. The setting is North Kent, in an area where poverty is rife but the human spirit has not been dented.

The focus is 12-year-old Bailey (Nykiya Adams), a rebellious youngster whose parents have long since split. Her young father, Bug (Barry Keoghan) is getting married again to Kayleigh (Frankie Box), and has a hair-brained scheme to pay for the wedding costs by selling hallucinogenic drugs secreted from a toad. Meanwhile, Bailey’s mother Peyton (Top Boy’s Jasmine Jobson) has hooked up with Skate (James Nelson-Joyce), a nasty piece of work, as violent as he is foul-mouthed. 

With folks like these, it’s no surprise Bailey is heading off the rails, and even accompanies her brother Hunter (Jason Buda) when he and his fellow gang members go and slice up a kid who they feel deserves some vigilante justice. At this point, Bird feels like a peek into a working-class subculture, oft seen before. But Arnold takes an unusual turn with the introduction of Bird, played by German actor Franz Rogowski (Passages).

Befriending Bailey, the mysterious Bird becomes a soulmate of sorts, although the less said the better. Rogowski carries this off perfectly, building an intimate friendship with Bailey. Is he real? The film toys with this idea, at points making the film feel like a blend of Kes and Birdman. Throughout all of this, Adams anchors the film with a forceful, star-making turn. Once again, Arnold shows just how good she is working with young performers, as well as capturing a gritty milieu. 

For fans of Barry Keoghan, they’ll more than get their fill – amusingly, there’s a reference to ‘Murder on the Dance Floor’ being “shit”, the Sophie Ellis Bextor song that the actor helped revive in the recent Saltburn. This time we get sincere karaoke-crooning to Blur’s ‘The Universal’, a touching moment in a film that works hard for its emotional payoffs. By the end, Bird will leave a tear in the eye, as Bailey finds solace in the arms of another.


Andrea Arnold’s Bird starring Barry Keoghan, Franz Rogowski and Nykiya Adams is screening at the 77th Cannes Film Festival. Release date TBC

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