The animated film by Croatian artist Marko Tadic Borne By The Birds (2013) is the story of a 300 hundred year old man and his travels throughout the world through the ages. Narrated by a sage-looking story teller beside a bonfire in an industrial estate, the protagonist is represented by a black blob-like character childishly drawn onto old postcards of historic places and turned into a stop-motion animated film.
The character who, at times looks like a bird and at other times looks like a muslim woman in a full niqab dress or a priest in black attire, flows in and out of each scene transforming into various objects for a brief moment, before transforming again into other more mobile forms and leaving.
These objects that appear briefly, seem to be a commentary on what’s shown in the postcards themselves; a lament on a certain aspects of the present-day state of affairs, in light of the historic depiction. For instance in the old panoramic view of Florence, high-rise towers are drawn in the background. However, there aren’t any high-rises in Florence in reality, and so it must about another city, where massive buildings blight the urban landscape, ignoring any sense of scale.
After being sent out from his dormitory room, our protagonist goes out wandering through old cities that have been redeveloped with modern high-rises. These high-rises have been built over the historical ruins, not destroying them, but hiding them inside.
Upon reaching the Notre Dame Cathedral, he mimics the gargoyles, which could be a comment on the way consumer culture celebrates antiquity, which is to mimic them in whatever way desired. From a cheesy souvenir to a decorative element in a building, the overriding principle is to make a sale.
The ancient city of Carthage was the seat of power in North Africa two thousand years ago. Established first by the Carthagenians, it was later captured and redeveloped into Roman Carthage in the 1st century A.D. Later it was destroyed by the Muslim conquest of 7th century A.D. and lay abandoned. Now it is apparently a ‘political’ suburb of the city of Tunis, which might shed some light on the drawing of a big out of scale pyramid in the middle of the old postcard of the excavation site.
Constantinople was originally known as Byzantium and colonized by the Greeks in 657 B.C. The city later became the capital of the Roman Empire in 330A.D. and after their downfall became the seat of the Latin and subsequently the Ottoman Empire in 1453. With the establishment of the Turkish republic in 1923, the city became known as Istanbul.
What the triangular structure drawn on the postcard represents is quite unknown. There aren’t any structures like that surrounding the Hagia Sophia, nor at the Pont De Galata (Galata bridge) which is a bridge spanning across the mouth of the Golden Horn estuary. It could be referring to the new Yavuz Sultan Selim suspension bridge, but that’s 15 miles away. Or it could be about metal scaffolding that has covered half of the interior walls of the Hagia Sophia at the moment.
With the Antica Porta Dei Tintori, which means the ‘old dyers gate’, the roofs of the towers are reconstructed during the animation, which morphs into huge bird or penguin like creatures hovering over the fortress, as our protagonist walks out the door and leaves the building. Apparently this village has been taken over by huge ‘bird looking’ people who dyed wool.
In A Typical Harvest Field postcard, our protagonist drops down from the sky via a cat-ladder and disappears into the ground, which might signify the alienating effects of industrial modernization on traditional farming activity.
In the scene of the Venetian loggia above, our protagonist goes to take in the views from the front, grows a tree on top of his head, wipes it and then clones himself multiple times. This is seen in conjunction with the Brienzersee postcard, which is a lake (Lake Brienz) near the Swiss Alps, as a response to our tendency to turn natural sites and historic buildings into circuses or spectacles of entertainment. ‘Inseli bei’ means ‘Island of’ in German.
In the Brooklyn Bridge postcard, our protagonist doesn’t appear, but Marko Tadic’s invisible hand draws what appears to be the vaulted roof of a house covering the people on the postcard. It is also vaguely reminiscent of the tops of those early 20th century Ford Model-T automobiles.
‘Eisgrotte im oberen gletscher’ means ‘Ice cave in the upper glacier’ in German. The elaborate room on the right is ‘Daraxa’s Gazebo’, part of the Alhambra Granada palace in Spain, which is where our protagonist proclaims that he is “mortal again” as he clones himself and ascends heavenwards at the same time.
The act of floating upwards out of the Daraxa’s room through the window is something an immortal body such as a spirit would do. That the protagonist would suddenly say that he is ‘mortal again’ is a complete paradox, which is what the film does right from the start. It is night-time story told by the campfire, except this is not at the beach or a mountain camp site but at an industrial location. It is supposed to be a ‘strange’ story told by our story-teller who is ‘relieved’ to tell this ‘stunning’ tale but it somehow has also become ‘trivial’ and ‘small’ through the years.
Any meaning to the film can only be derived from one of 6 disparate lines of monologue after the initial narration. And only upon hearing the last line “I am everyman. May I enter?” is it clear that it is our conscience (which we have somehow forsaken) masquerading as a 300 year old man. But what happened to our conscience along the way?
Most telling is when he found a ‘secret river and when he reached it, he drank’ which has overtures of the biblical ‘forbidden fruit’ that Adam ate. From that point on, through twists and turns, his travels would include a tour of the mythical scene of the cruel and corrupt King Popiel being eaten by mice, and finally his proclaimation that he had ‘suffered much. And am still suffering’
Why Marko Tadic would choose historic architecture or places to make a point is probably because real development it is the most visible expression of what’s in our hearts. What we build and how big we build it in relation to the surroundings is probably why our protagonist ‘has suffered so much and am still suffering’. In this respect, I think he has taken the position of nature, in instances where the size of development has overwhelmed the natural land.
In Hong Kong, the city where I live, its the opposite. Here we have the funny situation of too much nature, in proportion to buildable land – over 1.8 times. Which would be fine in most cases, except property prices here are the highest in the world, with people living smaller and smaller and people living in factory buildings (which is illegal).
In spite of this, the number of people emigrating here has not dropped but in fact has increased in recent years, which is obviously is creating a perpetual bias towards demand.
Only at the Alhambra Granada is our protagonist able to serenely, ‘be mortal’ again.