Jacques Lœuille – “Birds of America”

Let us remember the opening of this landmark film that is first cow by Kelly Reichardt, released in France a few months ago: a young girl walks her dog along a river on which freight boats sail. According to the bullets introduced and brought back, the character finds at the foot of a tree the entwined skeletons of two humans buried here a long time ago, at the beginning of the 19th century. The scene allows the filmmaker to shift into her anti-Western narrative and thus delivers the underlying subject of her film: in modern and commercial contemporary America (boats), the fundamental origins of the Nation are no longer anything more than forgotten remains, literally dead and buried (the skeletons).

Drawing by Jean-Jacques Audubon (©KMBO)

In its own way, the documentary birds of america by Jacques L.œuille tells the same thing, this by opening his film in a more or less similar way: some shots of skyscrapers, port activities and cargoes on departure allow to introduce the real subject of the film: Jean-Jacques Audubon (renamed John James Audubon at the time of his naturalization in 1812), explorer and naturalist painter of French origin who surveyed the southern United States then under construction, and having tirelessly descended and ascended the Mississippi to identify the countless species of birds inhabiting this region still inviolate and to paint them like an ornithologist documentarist of national origins. Directly succeeding the contemporary plans, Audubon’s drawings are a bit like the film by LœSee what the skeletons were to Reichardt’s: a buried memory, tending to be forgotten but which the cinema rightly unearths. These drawings bear witness to an America of the past, that of the Wild region in which animal species frolicked, some of which no longer exist, eradicated by the desire to domesticate the territory by the rulers of the time, including President Andrew Jackson who, in the 1830s, modeled the United States as we know it today, which was the first to institutionalize pushing Indians off their lands, persecuting them and confining them to reservations.

You will have understood it, under its guiding thread dealing with drawing the biographical portrait of Jean-Jacques Audubon and discouraging on the ecological dimension of his approach, Birds over America is also and above all a look at American history and the way in which the expansionist will of the colonists disturbed the balance of the peoples and the nature that surrounded them. What is the documentary about? Of the desire of the Europeans arriving in American territory as a kind of new Promised Land to conquer by force the place where divine power seemed to have pushed them and where they arrived arrogantly as new Chosen. Of the domination of white men over the Native American tribes. From the extermination of animals (the birds, therefore, which knew the same fate as the bison) contained these tribes whose animist beliefs allowed them to enter into communion with a nature increasingly attacked, violated, annihilated. This desire to eradicate peoples and their environment has been succeeded by the misdeeds of the omnipotence of a savage capitalism that pollutes and despises peoples. And the documentary by Jacques L.œIt would be a good idea to probe the violence of American history in our time by questioning the Native or the members of the black community left behind by the Nation, scattered without land throughout the national territory or in reserves where even nature is disintegrating for the first, or placed in ghettos surrounded by stinking factories and/or or carcinogens for seconds.

Territory in danger (©KMBO)

The evocation of the life and art of Jean-Jacques Audubon, which Lœuille regularly inserts between these various and violent observations with two functions, linked to each other: it first allows us to touch on what this America of origins was, with its bayous, its still peaceful animal species, these The birds whose plumages we have interpreted thanks to the art of Audubon, the ramages thanks to very moving sound recordings (the whole passage on the ivory-billed woodpecker is, for example, wonderful). But it also and above all makes it possible to observe that this Eden painted by the ornithologist explorer is a lost paradise, massacred by men, by their concern for “civilization” (it is curious to note to what extent the very idea of ​​civilization paradoxically with that of killing) and by the cynicism of the economic system which governs their contemporary lives (the documentary of showing, during two or three well-felt sequences, the misdeeds on Louisiana’s ecosystems by oil groups, Exxon to BP, the company responsible for the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, which devastated the entire Mississippi delta). The beginning of the film is in itself a good summary of its overall discourse: we begin by seeing the vestiges of the past in the drawings of Audubon before visiting the reserves of the Smithsonian Institute containing the stuffed corpses of all the species of American birds, whether they have disappeared or not. And the discourse of the film to be condensed into a line of text spoken in voice stopped : Art is not a dream, it is a resistance to reality. »

Archives of the ivory-billed woodpecker (©KMBO)

Sometimes a little too lyrical, both by the omnipresence of his (beautiful) music and by a voice stopped written too much, penalized by an excessive television bill (birds of america is the second film by Jacques Lœuille produced by Arte, which had shot a first documentary on the painter Modigliani for the Franco-German channel), this documentary therefore has for him to transcend his biographical will to make it a dark page of contemporary history, nourishing the eyes and the mind.

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