Hitting rock bottom can represent an array of things to any given person. It can be an opportunity to assess one’s choices and take a different road or it
can be the turning point to fall into a downward spiral of darker situations from which there might be no return. For some, their failures, stubbornness, or as
many like to call it, “bad luck”, gradually leads them into desperation rendering them unable to persevere. In his meditative debut feature Boy Eating the Bird’s Food, Ektoras Lygizos’ leading character is at that crossroads, where the life he thought he could
build starts to fall apart. Undoubtedly correlated to the current uncertain state of the Greek society, the film continues with the refreshing wave of
fearless filmmaking from the Mediterranean nation.
Opening with a literal depiction of its title, as the protagonist, played by Yiannis Papadopoulos, cannot afford not to take a bite from his pet’s food, the film follows a guy in his 20s
(presumably named Yorgos, though this is never clear) who has a ravishingly beautiful singing voice but whose career apparently has failed to take hold. His
recent efforts to find employment have been unfruitful, even more dreadful is his inability to provide food for himself, which keeps him at the edge of
starvation, only surviving by stealing what he can find from his elderly neighbor’s apartment. Slowly, his precarious living conditions worsen going from
losing access to drinking water for lack of payment to being left without a place to sleep. Homeless now, the blue-eyed boy spends his days scavenging
anything edible for his consumption, but even more nobly, and perhaps irrationally, for his bird, which he keeps hidden in abandoned building, as it’s his
most valuable possession.
There is a lot of inferring required by the viewer to discover bits and pieces of the boy’s story. What little is known about his past comes from him
calling his mother, dropping what is left of his valuables at a man’s house only to rapidly run away, or from the pictures he examines before attempting to
pawn his laptop. Fragile, caged, and with the urge to sing just as his beloved feathered friend, the boy exists in such state of deprivation, not only of
nutrients but of human connection, that his consciousness and sanity start to vanish as fast as his health.
Single-handedly carrying this intelligently somber character study, Papadopoulos delivers an exquisite performance drenched in a debilitating
sadness fueled by his perpetual hunger, both physical and spiritual. The incredibly nuanced characterization goes beyond the explicit nature of a much
talked about scene in which he undauntedly licks his own semen off his hand, which is a bold move, to say the least, by both the actor and the filmmaker.
Miserably malnourished, the boy finds comfort in staring at a girl in hopes of some attention or chanting soulfully at a church, spending his last coin on
candles in an innocent act of faith that turns out to be incredibly touching.
Constructed of long tracking shots and an overall minimalist aesthetic, Lygizos’ film is a sophisticated and offbeat drama more concerned with evoking an
insufferable sentiment of loneliness and not being able to share that pain with another person than with traditional storytelling. Nameless and seemingly
aloof, the boy stands in for a big segment of the disenchanted Greek population whose livelihood is in jeopardy due to a sky-high unemployment rate and
plummeted economy. But for all the darkness he has experienced, his one true silver lining is his bird which he cherishes and protects with singular
devotion. It gives him a reason to keep striving and not to fall into despair. It illustrates hope, and fittingly, his cage is covered with the national flag. The boy himself, not minding his condition, is a selfless creature, sharing half of what he has with his only loyal companion, becoming one with him. Boy Eating the Bird’s Food is a surprisingly dynamic and highly symbolic opera prima.