Written and directed by Lance Edmands
Borne from the current economic crisis, Bluebird is set in an obscure and isolated logging town in Maine. Coated in snow that seems to be barely ever cleared, there is a lingering fear that the mill will close and the town will fade even deeper into the past. Lost in the rituals of daily life, it is only through accidental tragedy that a true sense of malaise and hopelessness comes rising from below the surface.
Two seemingly conflicting images face off in Bluebird: all the workings of the pulp and paper industry, and the bluebird. Among the industries hit hardest by the economic crisis, forestry has suffered problems due to increasingly stringent environmental regulations, the failing newspaper industry, and the housing crisis. It is made clear within the first ten minutes that the town depends almost entirely on this industry, and that it faces a precarious future. There seems to be something essential about the fact that it is an industry that is at once dependent on nature and destructive of it. The bluebird is clearly out of place in this environment, as it should have migrated south for the harsh winter months. Traditionally an image of hope in literature and music, the bird’s appearance here is more obscure and ominous. It is as if it foretells the awful accident that brings enormous strain on the town, but perhaps it is also hinting at a necessary upheaval and a new stage of existence. It is not the hope of good things but rather the hope of renewal that the bluebird promises. Whatever the bluebird means, it is obviously tied to both the young boy in a coma and the impending fall of the local industry.
All the characters have lost themselves in a state of stasis. The environment seems to beautifully evoke this sort of frozen nature, this condition as well as desire of being completely numb. This lends to the film’s feeling of being somehow of the past, which is only supported by the muted aesthetic and the textured old world grain of 35 mm film. Bluebird beautifully evokes the aesthetics of some of the greatest films of the 1970s in particular, taking a page out of the book of Vilmos Zsigmond – especially his collaborations with Robert Altman. Through the grain, we are witness to a world of moral and emotional ambiguity. The lack of crisp edges and defined image suggests the lack of clarity the characters have, in particular, the uncertainty their future holds.
The strength of the film lies heavily on the cast. They lend natural energy to the relationships, which feel authentic and live far beyond the confines of the screen. Without any overt showiness, each character has their “moment”, often lying in glances or silent reactions. Like the film, the characters express most in their moments of isolation. Without the watchful eye of the world, it is as if the truth is finally able to emerge. However, the emotional breakthroughs almost always transcend easy readings. There is very little moralizing in the film and the emotional trajectories that the characters experience are often rife with contradiction. This lends to the richness of the drama, and supports the simplicity of the narrative.
Bluebird is without a doubt one of the most compelling portraits of contemporary American life on the screen of recent years. Understated, simple and stunning to look at, the film offers a difficult scenario with no easy answers. With this film, Lance Edmands demonstrates himself as being an emerging filmmaker worth keeping an eye out for. This does not feel like a first feature film, and each step is confident and mature. Bluebird is one of the better films of 2013 and well worth seeing on the big screen.
— Justine Smith
– Ricky D