It goes without saying, but there is truly no more hectic a time during one’s life, than childhood. The world feels, and truly is, far greater and more expansive than one could ever imagine, and while you are slowly coming of age and learning to fend for yourself if need be, a good home, or a home at all, makes as great a difference as any aspect of one’s life.
However, what happens if one doesn’t have that home, or even the sense of the possibility of finding “home?” That’s the set up for the new documentary from directors Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq entitled These Birds Walk, and while it may only clock in at a breezy 71 minutes, this is as harrowing and bleak a look at loneliness as you’ll find within non-fiction filmmaking.
These Birds Walk follows two separate, but intertwining, narratives. First we meet Omar, a poor young boy in Karachi, Pakistan who, after running away from his abusive family, gets into the graces of an orphanage ran by the Edhi Foundation. There we meet an ambulance driver whose story becomes the secondary narrative that we follow. However, it becomes clear as day that this child, and these children, are both drastically lonesome, and also wise and strong beyond their years.
Aesthetics aside, the film is a heartwrenching bit of non-fiction storytelling. No talking heads or interviews, hell, there isn’t even a true narration, the film relies on natural dialogue and the situations that arise out of the story. From the endlessly mature conversations about God, one’s own self worth and even thoughts of suicide, to a tracking shot of a boy running through the streets like his life depends on getting to a spot to pray, the film is a hauntingly sad meditation on the idea that no matter how strong one truly is, we are all incomplete without a “home.”
Omar, as well as the rest of the children, are the stars here. Again, wiser than anyone five times their age, the interactions between them feel not only true and real, but beautifully realized and full of endless vitality. Some of the most clear headed thoughts about life, loneliness and faith are found within these conversations, and knowing that it’s children ten years old or younger discussing these topics makes it all the more potent.
However, the film isn’t without awe inspiring style. The type of naturalistic documentary you’d expect a filmmaker like Terrence Malick or in many ways (at least intellectually, not so much stylistically) Michael Haneke to make, These Birds Walk employs a fluid camera, that while it may be consistently moving, never flinches. There are a handful of tracking shots here that are absolutely stunning, ranging from the Master-like shot following a child running, right to left, that opens the film, to a following shot of a child running down a hallway, the film features superb photography that both adds style to this world, while also allowing its naturalism to seep directly into the DNA of the picture.
Yet another example of how non-fiction film making is home to some of film’s most interesting stories, These Birds Walk will likely be lost amongst the hustle and bustle of this year’s SXSW Film Festival. However, if you find yourself looking at your schedule in hunt of a breathtaking piece of work that you may not know much about, this is that, and then some.