Generally, I tend not to see eye to eye with all of the cinema purists – for example, I don’t believe that the blockbuster is killing Hollywood (though the remake is coming uncomfortably close to trying). But they’re very right about some things. There is, as Elizabeth Bennet would have it, a truth universally acknowledged that there is something truly special about an independent movie – even more so when that movie is as exquisitely crafted as Bluebird.
The film’s premise is a simple one; school bus driver Lesley is locking up one night, but is distracted by a bluebird before she performs all of her last checks. In the morning, a young boy named Owen is found inside the bus with severe hypothermia, and the lives of Lesley, her husband and daughter, and the lives of Owen’s mother and grandmother begin to unravel. It’s testament to the power that a small but gripping twist can have upon the story – the lives of these distinct families hinge around the accident, and the film never feels the need to take any thread too far away from this. It’s proof that bigger is not always best.
Bluebird is not a cast filled with stars – outside of John Slattery and Margo Martindale, Adam Driver’s miniscule role is about all the popcorn-draw that it has. Instead, Bluebird is filled to the brim with understated, nuanced performances from talented people whose names you should, and hopefully will, be hearing more. Amy Morton, as Lesley, is nothing short of remarkable, and is equalled only by her parallel counterpoint, Louisa Krause, who plays Owen’s pill-addicted young mother, Marla. The two women are opposites, Lesley rational and collected to Marla’s flighty and irresponsible nature, but as the film progresses, they begin to become more and more intertwined.
But Bluebird’s real star is to be found in its construction; it is a mastery of style, tone, and direction. Set in the snowy landscape of Northern Maine, it utilises every part of the washed out surroundings to its advantage, creating the most tonally rich film I’ve seen in years. Despite the cars, the houses, and the diners, there’s something enchantingly bleak and utterly filmable about the small town in which it is set. It lends itself to shots effortlessly, sitting in the background of the action and injecting every scene with a wintry bite that acts almost as pathetic fallacy to the isolation of the characters. Maine-native Lance Edmands’ simplistic but stylish direction, combined with Jody Lee Lipes’ cinematography, means that everything the town has to offer the film is in there, giving it the most incredible tone and a truly beautiful backdrop.
It’s also a film that understands the fundamental value of silence. With its pared-down, moody score that never intrudes upon a scene, and stripped back, exposition-free dialogue, Edmands has created a film that perfectly utilises the power of silence in creating drama. It’s a reminder that not every moment needs to be filled with action, that stillness says as much as violence – and when the more heightened moments do arrive, they’re made all the more powerful because of it. It’s a film about fractal families, about failure and guilt, and the sheer quietness of the movie means that we are given an hour and half in which to mull this over.
Though the characters and the film reside at a crosspoint between stagnance and desolation, the end provides the tiniest glimmer of hope. Lesley’s husband, Richard, works for a failing logging company, but as the film leaves us with the image of a recycling plant, turning logs into vast rolls of paper, we are given an inkling that in this isolated and broken town, something might be reborn.
Dir: Lance Edmands
Scr: Lance Edmands
Cast: Amy Morton, John Slattery, Louisa Krause, Emily Meade, Adam Driver, Margo Martindale
Prd: Kyle Martin, Garrett P. Fennelly, Alexander Schepsman
DOP: Jody Lee Lipes
Music: Saander Jurriaans, Danny Bensi
Run time: 91 mims
Bluebird is available to rent and buy in the UK from Monday 25th July via We Are Colony