The Metamorphosis of Birds. Courtesy of 5th Avenue Cinema

Find it at 5th: Exploring life, death and change with artistic cinematography

The Metamorphosis of Birds: Fifth Ave film playing this weekend

Life comes with inevitable loss, and exploring that loss becomes part of the human experience for those we leave behind. This week, 5th Avenue Cinema is showing The Metamorphosis of Birds, and students can watch for free, engage in existential questions and connect visually and artistically with loss and memorial on screen.


The 2020 film is a poetic documentary directed by Portuguese filmmaker Catarina Vasconcelos. The story spans across generations of the director’s family, exploring their relationships and secrets through personal stories, old photos and stunning cinematography.


The title refers to the idea that families evolve, just as birds transform from an egg. We get to see complex relationships between parents, children and siblings to gain a deeper understanding of how they both support and constrain. The Metamorphosis of Birds uniquely explores family dynamics through dreamlike images and lyrical subtitles.


The film was chosen for screening by one of 5th Avenue’s projectionists, Clara Johnson. She said that The Metamorphosis of Birds really intrigued her. “I’ve never seen a movie like it before,” she said. “I thought it was pretty impressive. It’s like a love letter to her own mother after she passed away.”


5th Avenue Cinema is known for playing older, experimental films for local cinephiles. A 2020 film like The Metamorphosis of Birds is unusual for the theater, but the experimentality of it fits just the same. “The other movie that I chose for this term, Shithouse, also came out in 2020—but this one doesn’t really feel as new,” Johnson said. “I think I do have a preference for new movies. I don’t actively watch old ones that often.”


Growing up, her parents would show her older films that would bore her. She also noted that newer films tend to gain a larger audience at the theater. “One of our most popular showings was Mean Girls, for example, which did not come out that long ago,” Johnson said.


She thought Shithouse was a silly movie and so was looking for something more serious to contrast it when she came across The Metamorphosis of Birds. “It felt more like an art installation than a movie,” Johnson said. “It was shot on 16mm film, which is really cool—most films are not shot that way anymore.”


She noted that the dialogue in the film, delivered through voiceovers, is a unique experience. “It was her first film [Catarina Vasconcelos], and people described it as a ‘fictionalized art documentary’ or a ‘hybrid documentary with a memoir,’” she said.


“It’s one of the prettiest films I’ve ever seen before,” Johnson said. “Every single shot felt intentional. It almost feels like you are walking through an art gallery.” She compared the experience to being offered an earpiece at a gallery, which will tell you more information about the artist while you walk around their work.


“It also paints motherhood in a very nice, realistic way,” Johnson said. “The love they have for all of the women in the family transcends through generations.” She praised Vasconcelos’ depiction of her family and how these types of films can trigger audiences to think about their own lives. “I think more people should make art that looks back and appreciates their childhood to realize the impact of their experiences and how it shapes their life,” she said. “More people need to be reflective of the people they love.”


Johnson acknowledged that many people are unable to sit through foreign films. “My roommate refuses to read subtitles,” she said. “And some people might think it’s boring because it’s not action-packed, but it’s like reading poetry—it’s like an audiobook with pretty pictures.”


Moreover, Johnson believes that those willing to give this foreign film a chance will find it thought-provoking and enriching. “I think people who like blockbuster movies that are super popular would not like this movie,” she said.


People that refuse to read subtitles will miss out on the full scope of the art that Vasconcelos has created. Johnson said she struggled with the quick Portuguese, but the visuals kept her enamored. “You’re trying to read the really fast subtitles while also looking at the beautiful things on screen, and sometimes that’s hard,” she explained. “But when there’s a really good quote in the voiceover, that just makes all of the pretty pictures that you watched hit.”


She even shared a quote that stood out to her: “When you can’t remember, invent.”


“I thought about this in the context of generational mourning of a family member,” Johnson said. “Even if you can’t remember a family member, you can invent them in your mind, how they may have been, or invent something to remember them by.” This idea resonated with Johnson and felt innovative. “The film is about how it is easier to get through grief when there is a community of people who loved that person,” she said.


“I didn’t quite feel very emotional until the very end of the film when she talks about herself and her mom because initially she is talking about her grandparents, and it goes forward,” Johnson said. She explained that the emotions that the film provoked made her decide that she would screen it at the cinema.


Students can catch a free showing of The Metamorphosis of Birds on campus at 5th Avenue Cinema. Showings are at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, with a 3 p.m. screening on Sunday.