This Filipino film was submitted to compete on behalf of the Philippines for for Best Foreign Language Film at the 90th Academy Awards, but failed to acquire a nomination. But for as much as Filipino cinema gets ignored, here is a great case for why I’m hoping that can change soon. This film is available to watch on Netflix right now, and even if it doesn’t always work, Mikhail Red’s Birdshot perfectly sets up the young director as a voice to be sought out within the future. It’s easy enough to admire the ambition in a project like Birdshot, but overall I’m just happy enough that this film can hopefully bring Philippine cinema a wider audience.
There are two stories being told at the core of Birdshot, one of which is a coming-of-age narrative about a young, sheltered farm girl named Maya. The 14-year-old girl’s mother died during childbirth and her father is hoping for her to become far more self-sufficient and teaches her how to fire a gun. At around the same time, farmers around the same area have been disappearing and a newly recruited police officer named Domingo is called over to case. As all this is happening, Maya ends up wandering unknowingly into a restricted area where she shoots down an endangered Philippine eagle, and Domingo is called over to investigate the bird’s murder.
While it is certainly rather easy to admire the ambition in Mikhail Red’s direction, it also does come to a certain fault when you notice that part of it ends up presenting itself as more engaging than the rest. In part, it can be frustrating because of Maya’s own ignorance but to see how Red handles her own growth as she starts to discover more about the world around herself is the work of a skilled auteur. But then comes another story about the police procedural that centers around trying to find what has been happening to local farmers and that’s where I admittedly find myself more intrigued because it doesn’t feel like a police procedural. With both stories being mixed together to form one, certain pieces don’t exactly feel as if they fit as well as they probably should have. It bogs down the pacing to a certain point and takes me out, even during crucial moments.
At its best, what Red boasts is some truly impressive cinematography and a beautifully tense atmosphere to create a perfect contrast within the film’s setting. Performances all across the board are absolutely wonderful, but it’s not until the ending where the film makes the very most of what it has, as the two storylines cross one another. It’s a moment like this that leaves a scar that felt so lacking everywhere else within the movie and it’s also what makes this entire movie for myself. The way both stories manage to come full circle here is enough for me to forgive the lack of cohesion in the narrative that Mikhail Red creates, because that was where I found its social commentary was at its most effective – and everything fits perfectly into place.
Birdshot is every bit as beautiful a movie as it is a haunting one. Even in moments where it doesn’t work (the pacing does bog down the film quite a bit), you know that it still finds a way to draw yourself in. It works because there’s still something beautiful about what Mikhail Red captures in Birdshot, the very virtue of trusting human instinct. I already feel as if there’s something bright coming for the future of a director like Mikhail Red, and here’s hoping that we will get to hear more from him soon enough.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via PelikulaRED.
Directed by Mikhail Red
Screenplay by Mikhail Red, Rae Red
Produced by Pamela L. Reyes
Starring Mary Joy Apostol, Arnold Reyes, Ku Aquino, John Arcilla
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 116 minutes