Utpal Borpujari

January 14, 2011

Aragón’s ‘Paper Birds’ draws at heartstrings

By Utpal Borpujari

As a performer who has been able to capture the pulse of the audience on both television and cinema, Emilio Aragón (full name Tomás Aragón Emilio Alvarez) sure knows how to connect with the emotions of his audiences. His debut feature film, Paper Birds (original Spanish title: Pajaros De Papel) provides ample proof of it.

Featured in the First Films World Competition of the 34thMontreal World Film Festival, where it shared the audience award with The Day I Was Not Born (original German title: Das Lied in Mir, which won the FIPRESCI prize), by another debutant director Florian Cossan, Paper Birds unabashedly pulls at the viewers’ emotional heartstrings.

The way it does so while portraying the relationship between a kid and his father-like figure who has lost his son and wife during the Spanish Civil War, makes one immediately compare it with Roberto Benigni’s much-awarded international hit Life is Beautiful, which had told its emotional father-son relationship story in the backdrop of the Second World War.

Aragón’s protagonists are a bunch of itinerant group of musicians, who seek to drawn their personal sorrows and also earn their living in the post-Civil War Francoist era of dictatorship through stage performances. Each of the main characters sketched by the director is full of irony, and a self-deprecating humour is what drives the story forward. Indeed, the director has used humour to highlight the personal pain of the protagonists in quite an impressive manner, and it would not be out of place if one is to suggest that in this aspect at least he has drawn his inspiration from countryman Pedro Almodovar (actors Imanol Arias, Lluis Homar and Carmen Machi have all done Almodovar’s films too).

Written by Aragón and Fernando Castets, the film starts off at a relaxed pace, unfolding the life of Jorge del Pino (Imanol Arias), an underground activist and part-time stage comedian in a Civil War-hit Madrid,  and his child and wife. As the story seemingly settles into a charming family saga, it gets a sudden turn as Pino’s two loved ones die in a bomb attack. The story then jumps to a year later, when Pino returns to Madrid and gets together with his friend, ventriloquist Enrique Corgo (Homer), to rejoin his old troupe of travelling musicians.

As the Francoist officials, who are aware of Pino’s past activities as well as harbours suspicion about some of his fellow actors’ political inclinations, keep a sharp eye on them;  Pino and Corgo are forced to face a major dilemma – in the form of an orphaned kid Miguel (Roger Princep), who in a sheer fight for survival, ‘adopt’ them virtually as his parents and make them join their team of performers after displaying his talent at comedy.

Aragón weaves out a drama that both enthralls and keeps the viewer in tenterhooks as the story alternates between its light-hearted tragic-comic core and the political bits. Machi, as ageing singer Rocio Moliner who is looking for a mean – rather any means – to retire into a peaceful life, makes for a perfect folio to the Pino-Corgo-Miguel trio.

What makes Paper Birds particularly memorable is its unabashed tribute to the power of performing arts as a healer of broken souls, even as it brings out of the pathos of the characters who keep their audiences enthralled through their acts. The director’s father, Emilio Aragón Bermudez, who too is a highly-popular actor-singer in Spain, makes a guest appearance at the end of the film, as the now-old Miguel in present-times, giving a melancholic feel to the finale.

With some ear-pleasing music (by Aragón himself) that goes perfectly with the mood of the film compellingly shot by David Omedes, Paper Birds makes for a memorable viewing, especially if you are a fan of emotional dramas that family audiences enjoy.

It is in this that he gets differentiated from Almodovar (who is referenced above) – he never veers into the dangerous territory of the physical and mental quirks of his characters, an example being the hinted homosexuality of Corgo’s character in one scene that never gets any mention later on. The political aspect of the subject, a particularly tense moment in Spanish history, too perhaps gets underplayed as compared to the relationship drama for the same reason.

But because of its emotional core and touching performances by the cast, Paper Birds has the potential to connect with mass audiences across the world, even those who are not really aware of the Francoist era politics of persecution, provided it gets a release as wide as Life is Beautiful.

(Published in http://www.dearcinema.com, 13-01-2011)

http://dearcinema.com/column/aragon%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%98paper-birds%E2%80%99-draws-at-heartstrings/1713

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