Tito and the Birds
2019, NR, 73 min. Directed by Gabriel Bitar, André Catoto, Gustavo Steinberg. Voices by Pedro Henrique, Matheus Nachtergaele, Mateus Solano, Denise Fraga.
REVIEWED By Danielle White, Fri., Feb. 8, 2019
This Brazilian animated feature is an incredibly timely film. Using a combination of oil paint and digital enhancement, it creates a world just a hair over the brink of insanity from where we currently live: The people are suffering from a disease, a form of paralysis, brought on by fear. It’s not physically contagious; fear spreads through ideas. (Fear also drives consumerism, and the powers-that-be encourage people to buy into a Dome Garden, a Truman Show-like human terrarium that can protect them from the driving forces of fear.)
Tito (Henrique) is the son of a doctor/inventor (Nachtergaele) who believes the cure for this disease can be discovered by relearning to communicate with birds, pigeons specifically. They’re described as “free and rejected” and have a peasantlike charm. According to the mythology, different types of birds used to warn humans of dangers to come: Earthquakes, floods, war, etc. But we forgot how to listen.
The color palette alternates between earthly tones and sickly yellows and greens, the vibrancy of an impending nuclear wasteland. There’s a realism to the characters – faces are asymmetrical, knees are knobby, teeth are crooked. Even the 10-year-olds look world-weary. There’s also a sense of the grotesque, a folklore that rings of the Brothers Grimm, and the macabre that draws directly from Tim Burton’s work; even the opening score owes much to Danny Elfman. Yet while the music creeps and awes, the pace of the action nibbles and pecks – here and there a bit choppy, hard to follow. The plot gets a little more complicated than it needs to.
In the final stages of the fear disease, a person essentially becomes a rock – described on a news report as “useless,” a term that is right at home in a hypercapitalistic society that objectifies the working class: You cease to produce labor so you may as well cease to exist. The metaphors land like heavy machinery – quick and devastating. Teo, the archetypal rich-kid school bully, looks like a long-lost Trump son and that surely isn’t a coincidence. The story, though structurally flawed, is an artful portrait of modern life: the 24-hour news cycle, class warfare, and rampant overconsumption leading to crippling anxiety and burnout, even in the young. It’s sadly all too familiar: Too late to be a cautionary tale, it reads more like society’s distorted self-portrait.