Berlinale-Blogger 2017 A Disorienting and Disoriented World: “The Foolish Bird”

The Foolish Bird
The Foolish Bird | © Yellow-Green Pi・Coolie Films

Co-directed by Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka, “The Foolish Bird” portrays the left-behind teenager Lynn who cruises through life in a society where only money and smartphones matter.

The Foolish Bird is one of two films in this year’s Berlinale programme which has been co-directed by a culturally mixed couple. Just like the Georgian story My Happy Family, which is directed by Nana Ekvtimishvili from Georgia and Simon Groß from Germany, this film by Chinese director Huang Ji and Japanese director Ryuji Otsuka is a beautiful demonstration of how cinema transcends borders of culture and language.

The 16-year-old Lynn, living with her grandparents and three much younger cousins, spends her time hanging out in internet cafes and trying to earn a little extra pocket money. Her mother runs a business in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai and only ever comes back when sheencounters financial difficulties and needs to borrow money from a former classmate. Meanwhile, the town is haunted by an unresolved case of rape murder.

In this town full of unemployed people, the elderly are scammed out of their savings by tricksters who sell supposed "high-tech" health care products and promise additional free gifts and prestige. At the same time, the teens are straggling in their own existential rat race. In Lynn’s world it seems like everything can be achieved with a smartphone in hand and there’s nothing that cannot be bought with money. The smartphone becomes synonymous with social class and power, and is even used as a tool for revenge. Since everything is consumable, school fails to defend the education, home does not offer much warmth, a bus becomes a black market, the police station where stolen smartphones are pushed and a hair salon can turn into a trap. All these details are occasionally messy, but they are well-observed with profound social awareness. Through Lynn’s perspective enhanced by intense close-ups and a colour palette which alternates according to the time of the day, there is a strong sense of dysfunctional places and misplaced relationships. Lynn hides her face behind her long straight hair most of the time. When riding a bike alone on an empty street in misty darkness, her silhouette reveals her loneliness and persistence, as well as tinting the film with a touch of thriller feeling.

In The Foolish Bird, Lynn’s grandfather hunts birds to perform shamanism for families who wish to have babies and to give to people as presents or bribes. This by no means makes the birds foolish animals, but they do occasionally get trapped in a disorienting and disoriented world.