Yellow Bird, A (2016)

Review #1,383

Director:  K. Rajagopal
Cast:  Sivakumar Palakrishnan, Huang Lu, Seema Biswas
Plot:  Siva is released from prison.  Unable to find forgiveness from his mother, he begins a quest to locate his ex-wife and daughter. 

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Nom. for Camera d'Or & Critics Week Grand Prize (Cannes)
Runtime:  112min
Rating:  M18 for sexual scene and coarse language
International Sales:  Alpha Violet
Singapore Distributor:  Lighthouse Pictures & Golden Village Pictures

K. Rajagopal has been in the Singapore film scene since the mid-nineties, making award-winning shorts as well as directing segments in omnibus works like Lucky 7 (2008) and 7 Letters (2015).  It is only inevitable that he would deliver his first feature, albeit some twenty years later. 

A Yellow Bird, as it is called, a title named after a story that the director’s mother once told him—when you see a yellow bird, there is hope.  Of course, the film is not about any birds, yellow or otherwise, but about a man desperate to experience hope again through redemption. 

Starring Sivakumar Palakrishnan as Siva, the Singaporean-Indian man in question, A Yellow Bird depicts his journey of torment, guilt, regret and solace from his point-of-view.  The performance is extraordinary, and it is a rare joy to see such an intense display.  Palakrishnan also dovetails well with the supporting cast, blessed with the international talents in Huang Lu (Blind Massage, 2014) and Seema Biswas (Bandit Queen, 1994). 

Siva has just been released from prison, a punishing stint that has caused his family to break apart.  Out to seek forgiveness from his mother, and search for his ex-wife and daughter again, he barely survives taking up low-paying jobs like dishwashing and working in Chinese funeral processions. 

It is not a dialogue-driven film, though I must say that vulgarities and racial slurs are unexpectedly generous.  It is a dark and bleak film with long silences, captured in long takes via largely handheld shots that create a nervous undercurrent.  There are plenty of close-ups on Siva, usually shot in low-key lighting that occasionally masks some of his features, as if he is in the periphery between light and shadow, in a no man’s land really. 

I believe Rajagopal’s intention was to create a raw, no-frills style that brings an authentic and organic quality to the film.  The director has cited the Dardennes as one of his influences, and it is quite clear how some of the documentary-like naturalism inherent in their work has translated into the film.

The flaw of A Yellow Bird, however, is that despite exuding a sense of assurance that the film knows where it is going, and how it is going to get there, it is not without its moments of monotony.  Maybe the pacing could have been tighter, and I think it is possible to have done so without compromising the look and style of the work. 

There are times when it overindulges in too long a shot, or too lengthy a focus, perhaps intentionally in service of the school of filmmaking that privileges the expression of psychology and emotion through the humdrum and the seemingly mundane.  It can be great cinema when done astutely.  But I don’t think I can honestly say that for A Yellow Bird.  Nonetheless, Rajagopal’s work represents the right direction for Singapore cinema, and should inspire more of our filmmakers to take the path less trodden. 

Verdict:  There are strong performances, and the film is shot in a raw, no-frills style that gives it its authenticity, but it is not without its moments of monotony.


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Post-screening dialogue with cast and crew as part of Singapore Film Society Talkies

Great turnout for the Singapore Film Society Talkies screening of 'A Yellow Bird'



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