Film Review: The Bird Catcher
By Lauren Bray
"The Bird Catcher" is a WWII drama that depicts some of the lesser-known stories of Norwegian Jews through the eyes of a young girl trying to survive.
The UK/Norwegian produced film made its world premiere at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Friday, February 1 at the Lobero Theatre.
A large crowd arrived in the rain during evacuation orders and flash flood warnings, filling every seat of the theatre to watch the premiere.
The film begins in 1942 inside the bustling city of Trondheim, Norway where the entire country had come under Nazi occupation two years prior. Slowly the rumors stir of Jews being taken while teenage Esther (Sarah-Sofie Boussnina), normally entranced by Hollywood and her desire to be a movie star, begins to see the horrors of war.
While fleeing Nazi persecution Esther winds up alone on an occupied farm, forced to conceal her identity and pose as a farm boy. She befriends the family's disabled son Aksel ( Arthur Hakalahti) whose father Johan (Jacob Cedergren) is a Nazi sympathizer with hopes to rise up in their political party.
As the Nazi occupation strengthens, Esther encounters others on the farm who threaten to reveal her secret and her chances to escape to Sweden and hope for survival.
The backdrop produces stunning winter images of coastal Norway near the Swedish border. The snow-frosted forests and idyllic countryside provide a nice juxtaposition to the suspense and fear the characters experience. The audience provided several audible gasps through every twist and turn in the plot.
The film is powerful and engaging, displaying deep loss due to war as well as forgiveness and redemption. It shows Esther's cunning and determination to survive in a world that doesn't want her to.
Perhaps the most frightening aspect of this film is that it's based on true historical accounts of Nordic communities during World War II that, according to the filmmaker, are stories that aren't well known.
Directed by Ross Clarke, and written by Trond Morten K. Venaasen (“Helium,” “The Roof”), the film features cinematography by John Christian Rosenlund (“The Wave,” The Bothersome Man”), and score from composer Jim Copperthwaite (“Portrait of a Star,” “Sports Life Stories”). Produced by Lisa G. Black (“Miles,” “Almost Paris”). Leon Clarance(“Sense8,” “Blake’s 7”), Ross Clarke, and executive produced by Peter Hampden (“Churchhill,” “The Nice Guy”), Laure Vaysse (“The Titan,” Sense8”), Laura Brook (“The Bird Catcher”) and Norman Merry (“Colette,” “The Nice Guys”).
It stars Sarah-Sofie Boussnina (“Department Q: The Absent One,” “Knightfall”), August Diehl (“Inglourious Basterds,” “Salt”), Jakob Cedergren (“The Guilty,” Submarino ”), Laura Birn (“Purge,” “A Walk Among the Tombstones”), Johannes Kuknke (“Force Majeure,” “Real Humans”), Anders Baasmo Christiansen (“Kon-Tiki,” “Welcome to Norway”), and Arthur Hakalahti (“The King’s Choice,” “Skam”).
“The Bird Catcher” is the first independent US film to receive NFI money for production, and was led by a female lead producer and a female owned production company with an over 50% female crew.
Visit sbiff.org to check screening times for the Santa Barbara International Film Festival