In Kestrel's Eye, Swedish filmmaker Mikael Kristersson follows the lives of two kestrels (European falcons) in painstaking detail over several years' time. We see the birds watch over a small town from their perch, a 13th-century Swedish church steeple, located in the center of the town's cemetery. We see the birds mate. We see the birds lay and protect their eggs. We see the eggs hatch. We see the parents hunt for field mice to feed their chicks. Finally, we see the chicks grow into self-sufficient adults.
In depicting the lives of these birds, Kristersson pointedly avoids using cute music, voice-over narration and other traditional anthropomorphic film devices (familiar from Bill and Coo, 'Wild Kingdom' and Microcosmos). Thankfully, Kristersson also rejects the metaphysical poetics of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.
With a strategically placed remote-controlled camera, Kristersson shoots scene after scene of the birds in their habitat, often getting remarkably up close and personal. (The camera, which is never visible, doesn't seem to disturb the animals.) The chick-feeding scenes are among the most interesting-and frustrating-as the mother favors certain chicks over others.
Yet the spare, methodical approach diminishes any hope for excitement. Even in the mouse-hunting scenes, shot from an aerial 'bird's-eye' view, Kristersson cuts away at the most dramatic moment: the kestrels' downward descent onto the prey. More Robert Bresson than 'When Animals Attack!', Kestrel's Eye attempts profundity over cheap thrills. (Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds is the film's real progenitor.)
After the slow-building, admittedly dull introduction, the film becomes as much an open-ended study of humans as birds. Seen entirely at a distance, the humans are observed by and contrasted with the birds at key moments, which point up how humans-with all their advanced intelligence-waste much more time than birds with their superfluous ceremonies and rituals: repeatedly cleaning and decorating gravesites; marching in a band; burying a loved one; setting up an elaborate wedding. During the wedding sequence, one of the birds defecates on the activity below in what might be a definitive statement of ornithological superiority. Of course, Kristersson deliberately manipulates in his editing: this is not cinma-vrit and there are no accidents.
By the same token, the only flaw in the film-apart from its built-in ennui-is the occasional attempt to mimic the literal point of view of the birds, such as in the mouse-hunting scenes. Though a normally effective modality for developing empathy, these 'subjective-eye' moments add little to Kestrel's Eye, since the birds seem devoid of emotion and Kristersson really wants to promote his own authorial agenda anyway. This wise director clearly knows there are better ways at establishing perspective.