Kestrel's Eye

For his audacious documentary Kestrel's Eye, Swedish director Mikael Kristersson spent two years recording the life of two kestrels (European falcons) perched in the tower of a 13th-century church overlooking a cemetery in a small village. Rather than go the Discovery Channel route and parcel out bits of information through voiceovers, Kristersson uses only natural sound, eschewing narration or musical score. All that's heard is the steady rustling of the wind through the trees, broken only by the kestrels' chirping and squawking and the everyday noises (a car alarm, an ambulance, a church procession, and so on) of the townspeople below. More a somber reverie about life and death than an episode of Wild Kingdom, Kestrel's Eye is an achievement in minimalist restraint, deftly toeing a potentially treacherous line between serenity and mundanity. Kristersson alternates shots of the birds hunting, nesting, and soaring with overhead angles on people's daily activities, such as a boy kicking around a soccer ball or a custodian tending to the graves. If the film has anything like a narrative arc, it's in the slow unfurling of life, from the mother kestrel's eggs to the newborn chicks to their eventual flight from the church tower. Contrast that with the occasional funeral ceremony taking place on the ground, and the cycle of life continues. Kestrel's Eye sustains a meditative, austere, tranquil tone, so much so that had its spell been broken by a word of voiceover, it would likely be unspeakably boring. But Kristersson's bold experiment makes bird-watching seem almost transcendent.

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