Louise Archambault delivers a bittersweet and poignant love story with And the Birds Rained Down. This note-perfect adaptation of Jocelyn Saucier’s award winning novel is a tender romance and tale of second chances. It’s a story of golden oldies, Tom (Rémy Girard) and Charlie (Gilbert Sicotte), who seek peace by escaping the city. They retreat to the woods and enjoy life away from the daily grind.
Even hermits enjoy the company of women and Tom and Charlie are soon joined by two females. First to arrive is a plucky young photographer, Ange-Aimée (Eve Landry), who seeks their friend Ted (Kenneth Welsh) to complete her portrait series on survivors of the Great Fire. Then comes a runaway from a mental institution, Marie-Desneige (Andrée Lachapelle), who teaches the men learn that life is better spent shared than in isolation.
The film approaches Tom and Charlie’s situation frankly and objectively. The men live as hermits with a death pact. Should they ever become too ill, they each have a tin of cyanide capsules on standby to allow them to end life peacefully. However, the women’s arrival upends the pack with the insatiable thirst for life they bring to the camp. The younger Ange-Aimée devotes herself to documenting the stories and histories of her elders. She hates to see any life cut short after she has photographed people who’ve survived terrible tragedies. Marie-Desneige embraces her freedom having been institutionalized without her consent for the entirety of her adult life. Their makeshift community in the woods inspires audiences to reflect upon the things in life that really matter.
And the Birds Rained Down is cast to perfection. The core players of the film create beautifully lived-in characters. As Charlie, Sicotte is a presence of calm quiet strength. Girard doesn’t miss the chance to embellish Tom’s boisterous lust for life. Archambault (Familia, Gabrielle) delicately opens up the novel by accentuating Tom’s passion for music. The film pauses for a disarming interlude in which Tom accepts the current state of his life while belting out a soulful cover of Tom Waits’ “Time” in a bar—the one place he vowed never to set foot in again. It’s an exceptional scene that forms the emotional core of And the Birds Rained Down. Archambault offers a sobering, heartfelt nod to folks like Tom and Charlie who seek to control their lives on their own terms.
Archambault’s restrained style and fondness for naturalism makes the film a delight of the senses. One feels the cool breeze in the woods and smells the sharp scent of pine (and pot) as the old timers draw life from the land. The film harnesses the power of the woodland landscape to create an environment that is tranquil and calming. Full credit goes to cinematographer Mathieu Laverdière for capturing the lush greenery in all its sobering beauty. To look at the screen is to experience the sense of serenity that Tom and Charlie crave in the wild. Without politics or judgement, the film asks us to cherish life in all its simple pleasures and wonders.
Archambault goes straight for the heart in adapting Saucier’s novel. The result is poignant, touching, and profoundly moving. There’s not a single note of false sentimentality. Her adaptation reconfigures the five unique sections of the novel, in which each character tells the story from his or her point of view, into a linear narrative. The film creates a shared experience for the core members of the ensemble. Archambault’s structure removes elements of coincidence that might feel contrived on screen. The result feels authentic and real as we build relationships with these characters while they approach the ends of their lives. This is one of those great films that is true to the book, but functions a standalone work in its own right.
The only major change is the partial omission of a character from Ange-Aimée’s tale who brings the story full circle: the scenes with the woman from High Park. The woman, a survivor of the fires, inspires Ange-Aimée’s project without the shutterbug taking her picture. She’s the one who got away. It’s a curious scene to exclude. The scenes between Ange-Aimée and the woman are filmable as written and a strong emotional element of the novel. But Archambault keeps the film firmly in the present tense and focuses on the trio of elders. She privileges their heartaches and joys.
The characters don’t disappear into flashbacks. When they recall stories from the past, the images remain in the present. The film inspires us to live in the moment and savour every minute that life has to give. And the Birds Rained Down a poignant, delicately told tale that unfolds with life-affirming grace.