Pacific Cinematheque, July/August 1991

Shelved for over twenty years, and only released by the censors in 1990, Juraj Jakubisko’s remarkable Birds, Orphans, and Madmen — described as “a wild, avantgarde work very much tied to the Czech New Wave of the 1960s” ( International Film Guide) and as a “post-apocalyptic Band of Outsiders’ (San Francisco Film Festival) — is an anarchic, absurdist, and ultimately pessimistic celebration ot freedom. Two oddball friends, Yorick and Ondrej, live amongst the surreal, ramshackle detritus of a bombed-out church, impossibly littered and overflowing with old furniture, broken cupboards, an out-of-tune piano, staircases leading nowhere, and birds galore. They take in Martha, a young Jewish waif, and one of the cinema’s strangest ménage a trois unfolds — complete with a beautiful three-way love scene set in a gutted American convertible. Each of the three principals has been orphaned by war, and each is devoted to playing the fool as a meas of distancing themselves from the horrors they have already absorbed. Their efforts to recreate a family and home soon prove futile, however, as their innocence has no place in the insane world they inhabit. “A mad universe of surrealist tableaux and bizarre actions, with every composition a poem in design and color… This unconventional fantasy blends dream and reality, tenderness and cruelty with a rather spectacular use of distortion lenses, agitated cameras, special tints, visual punts and variable screen sizes… A delirious tour de force.” — Amos Vogel, Film as a Subversive Art

Amos Vogel Unavailable for over twenty years, and released by censors only in 1990, BIRDS, ORPHANS AND MADMEN is often cited as Jakubisko’s best film, and exemplifies the sense of chaos and doomed rejoicing that characterize the director’s work. A “post-apocalyptic BAND OF OUTSIDERS” (San Francisco International Film Festival), “BIRDS is about oddball friends and war orphans Yorick and Andrej, who live amid the surreal detritus of a bombed-out church. They take in Marta, a young Jewish waif, and an unusual ménage á trois (a favourite Jakubisko motif) ensues, complete with a beautiful three-way love scene set in a gutted American convertible. For all its audacious New Wave energy and inventiveness, the film is a disturbing portrait of an insane world that reserves no place for innocence. “A mad universe of surrealist tableaux and bizarce actions, with every composition a poem in design and colour… [BIRDS, ORPHANS AND MADMEN] blends dream and reality, tendemess and cruelty with a rather spectacular use of distortion lenses, agitated cameras, special tints, visual puns, and variable screen sizes . . . A delirious tour de force”.

Juraj Jakubisko in ‘Mladý svět’ No. 6/1969

Three friends orphaned in war live in a crazy world without ideals and full of violence, cynicism and despair. They are Yorick, Andrey and Martha, whom both these young men love.
Love and happiness in life, freedom and death are the main themes dealt with in the film. Dream and reality, tenderness and cruelty, mad laughter and pain, love end disappointment, sex as a game, these eternal themes are presented there in new forms.
This unconventional and explosive story full of fantasy is characterised by a poetic and cruel vision of the world. A tragicomedy bordering on farce, the picture deals with madness as a drug seasoning life, with a search for happiness in madness, which however is not plentiful enough in life to make man happy.
The story shown in the film does not have the classical structure, but is a mosaic consisting of the adventures and events experienced by the protagonists.
The end of the story about madness as a sense of life is hopeless: after killing his mistress and their unborn child, the protagonist meets his cruel death when burnt alive.
Birds, Orphans and Fools anticipates the rising movement of hippies in the seventies, with the difference they there is much cruelty, violence and sadism in the former. The episodes remind the filmgoers of the recant past, the crisis period in the late sixties.
“As in his preceding film Deserters and Pilgrims (1968), in this new picture, too, Jakubisko has made himself felt as someone who disabuses the public by dispelling the nation’s illusions about heroism, fighting spirit of the glorious past. This time he spoofs even the myth of M.R. Štefánik, which was being revived at the time of the making of this film. Ps to the visual aspect of the picture, persiflage and paraphrases of various paintings and sculptures dominate (for instance, that of the classical Laokoon sculptural group, this time not deadly snakes, but film strip twining round it). The maker’s playful approach manifests itself by the use of quotations, parodies of stock phrases and the demolition of authoritative myths by specific cinematographic means integrating them into the structure of a taxing philosophical statement.” (Andrej Obuch in “Dialog”, October 24, 1989)
“I have ecompleted Deserters. In this film, I intended to show the state of depravity gradually reached by mankind, the fact that man makes his own laws only to break them. Man has invented God in order not to respect him. The film ends with e paradox: even if God existed end the end of the world came in the same way as it is described in the Bible, people would not take notice of it and would continue struggling. While The Crucial Years deals with the break experienced by a man who has just passed a certain age limit beyond which his ideals die, I intend, in Birds, Orphans and Fools, to show a man who has passed this limit, but tries to resist, not admitting his ageing and hindering it by a sort of tomfoolery and madness with which ha wants to make his life more pleasant and find some happiness. Yet the game ends strangely, because madness is a drug seasoning life and cannot resolve anything. I rather intended to show that a man who behaves like a fool and buffoon in this world to take the load off his conscience and find himself is, as an individual, rather too little foolish in view of what happens in the world round him.”.