by Ryland Walker Knight
Tonight begins the week-long NYC premiere run of Albert Serra's Birdsong at Anthology Film Archives. I wrote a few words about the film and its accompanying "making of" picture for The Auteurs' Notebook, which you can read by clicking right here. As can be seen above, Serra's imagining of the three "wise men" and their journey to see the newborn Christ is gorgeous, stately, mysterious and (surprising, baffling to me) its clever-clumsy-absurd jokes about bodies and idiocy are close to hilarious. But it's not a rollicking road picture. It's more like you're watching a myth moulded into reality through quotidian (boring?) tasks like, say, walking. These three spend a lot of time simply walking, or trying to walk.
Their path is blocked by elements and by bodily stupidity. They get lost, it seems, constantly. Every diversion-tack surprises, and takes forever. The most delicious moments happen without sound.
Mark Peranson's accompanying Waiting for Sancho does not explain everything, nor provide a perfect picture of the people involved with Serra and his exploratory cinema, but it does give us more jokes, and a little context. It does show us his wardrobing skills. It's also longer than Birdsong, oddly enough, and somehow even less happens in its five days of activity than the 98 minutes of black and white trudgery. The best jokes in Peranson's films are the ones about the folly of improv cinema, about its arduous accretion flipped into a dance or a bottle of wine, about "hip" t-shirts on rather "un-hip" but loveable! gordos, about how we deal with muck. Seen together with Birdsong we get a better idea of the sense of fun behind Serra's picture, even if his work never seems quite as goofy as it truly is, or could be.