© Leonine Distribution GmbH

White Bird
U.S.A. 2023

Opening 11 Apr 2024

Directed by: Marc Forster
Writing credits: Mark Bomback, R.J. Palacio
Principal actors: Gillian Anderson, Helen Mirren, Olivia Ross, Bryce Gheisar, Patsy Ferran

White Bird is told in flashback form by elderly Sara Blum (Helen Mirren), who is awaiting the opening of her artistic work in a nearby museum. She believes that her grandson Julien (Orlando Schwerdt), has reached an age to learn family history. She begins with the year 1942, when Nazis occupy France. Sara (Ariella Glaser) is Jewish and attends school in Aubervilliers aux Bois. She is a talented artist, continuously making new drawings of life as she sees it, all in her artbook. Her classmate Julian (Bryce Gheisar) is bullied, being on crutches due to having suffered from polio. Sara barely escapes, when the Germans attack her school and send all Jewish students to concentration camps. Julian hides Sara in the barn next to the home of his parents, Vivienne and Jean-Paul Beaumier. During the whole next year, he brings her books from school, so that she can continue learning; they fantasize travelling around the world, e.g., to New York. He is her “light” to the outside world. Meanwhile, her classmates have joined right-wing Nazi politics. It’s dangerous that they witness Julian picking up Sara’s artbook for her.  Eventually, the radio announces that the war will soon be over.  Sara leaves the barn, to experience the “outdoors,” where she kisses Julian. They plan their future.

White Bird is based on the book by R.J. Palacio. The film opens with seagulls and then continues with a white bird, a symbol of hope. Julian and Sara enjoy singing about birds; Sara draws pictures of birds. Sara’s father, Max, cautioned her to wear winter boots, but on the way to school she changes to red loafers which are symbolic for the duration of the film. In various websites featuring White Bird, there is a mix-up about which boy is Julien (with an “e”) or Julian (with an “a”). No matter. This American-made film plays in France but was filmed in the Czech Republic. Do we need another film about World War II, two hours long and repetitive? Luckily, the youngsters give it some originality from their viewpoints. All is well. Or not. (Becky Tan)

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