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Cannes 2024: Bird review – Barry Keoghan excels as a likeable dad geezer

Film showcases director Andrea Arnold’s gift for artful shepherding of apparent chaos, while allowing new and surprising elements

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Director: Andrea Arnold
Cert: None
Starring: Barry Keoghan, Franz Rogowski, Nykiya Adams, Jason Buda, Jasmine Jobson, Joanne Matthews
Running Time: 1 hr 59 mins

Who knows where the time goes? It comes as a faint shock to realise that Barry Keoghan, a cinematic young tearaway minutes ago, is playing patriarch to a brace of adult-adjacent kids. Indeed, there is a suggestion here that the character could soon be contemplating grandparenthood. Time also moves quickly within a tighter frame. The latest extraordinary film debuting at Cannes film festival from Andrea Arnold, director of Fish Tank and American Honey, contains an unmistakable gag about Keoghan’s appearance in Saltburn (either that or an enormous coincidence).

All this in a film that showcases Arnold’s gifts – the artful shepherding of apparent chaos – while allowing new and surprising elements. Not everyone will approve of the big swing here. But few will resist the richness and fullness of her characterisation.

We are back in the scruffy, distinctive corner of Kent that the director has been ploughing for the last few decades. Call it Arnoldshire. Early on, young Bailey (Nykiya Adams) runs into Bug (Keoghan), her dad, while knocking about a rundown seaside town. It transpires that he is set to marry his girlfriend and have her bring another child into the house. The kids worry that their future stepsister may play Harry Styles. Bailey objects to the union. Bug tries to assert his authority, but authority is not much respected in Arnoldshire.

That county is also at home to danger. Regular visitors will worry about the edgy atmosphere in the house, but, early on, we are given a hint that this is a place of solid – if aggressively expressed – love. You could think little else when watching Bug and Bailey travelling home on an electric scooter to the blasting strains of Too Real by Fontaines DC. Sure enough, though the kid is unhappy about the coming nuptials, the tension proves to be only one-or-two-ply in depth.


Speaking at the opening of the Directors’ Fortnight strand, Arnold asserted that one of the things she enjoyed in cinema was messiness. There certainly is some of that here. But the clutter is always in the service of character development. Bird is typical of her work in that it bows to no bourgeois expectations of a happy union as it pokes and prods its characters.

Adams already proves to have an arsenal of emotions at her disposal. It hardly needs to be said that Keoghan convinces as a likable, if dissolute, geezer. The film is also typical in making good use of long-time collaborator Robbie Ryan. The Irish cinematographer encourages that sense of creative disorder by allowing irregularities to creep in at the edge of the frame.

Bird is, however, atypical of Arnold’s technique in that it admits an element of the supernatural (or the perceived supernatural) that requires a leap of faith from the audience. Bailey notices a strange individual lurking on the rooftops. They meet and he tells her his name is Bird. We never understand why – in the person of Franz Rogowski – he speaks in a German accent. We never understand why he wears a kilt. Isn’t Franz Rogowski a good bit older than the character that emerges? Other people can see him. So he is not an imaginary friend.

As events advance, and we encounter horrifying abuse at the home of Bailey’s mother, the suspicion emerges that Bird may actually be, well, a bird. There is something of a postwar kids’ novel about the conceit – Stig of the Dump, maybe – but that may not be a place viewers want to go. Those same cynics may also balk at not one, but two, moments of sentimental epiphany to Britpop ballads. They shouldn’t. Arnold has always been good on release through popular music. A stirring consolidation and surprising advance from the Queen of Arnoldshire.

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist