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“What human beings can’t explain, they invent.”


This koan-like bit of wisdom serves as a guiding principle for director Catarina Vasconcelos’s exquisitely moving family reminiscence. Her grandparents, Henrique and Triz, married young, but spent most of their lives apart: he was a sailor, and she was left in Portugal to raise their six children. Their relationship transpired through letters, which they requested be burned upon their death. From the ashes, Vasconcelos resurrects their family life as a series of tableaux rendered with the uncanny vividness of still life paintings. In her role as granddaughter, Vasconcelos knows the players firsthand but the situations only through what she’s been told. In response, she weaves a brilliant speculative family history through heart-rending narration passed between Henrique and Triz’s children, subtle reenactments, and supremely elegant visual metaphors. Filmed on rich 16mm and treated with the care of a newly unearthed family album, The Metamorphosis of Birds is above all a moving consideration of motherhood and its relationship with the natural world. A prize-winner at film festivals the world over, Vasconcelo’s debut feature has earned critical comparisons to the work of master film essayists Chris Marker and Chantal Akerman. “Luminous… a breathtaking arrival for Vasconcelos. Striking imagery and lyrical language turn a family-history essay into an aching meditation on generational love” (Variety). (MK)


Presented with support from UW Madison Department of Portuguese and Spanish.

  • Year
    2020
  • Runtime
    101 minutes
  • Language
    Portuguese
  • Country
    Portugal
  • Director
    Catarina Vasconcelos
  • Screenwriter
    Catarina Vasconcelos
  • Producer
    Pedro Fernandes Duarte, Joana Gusmão, Catarina Vasconcelos
  • Cast
    Manuel Rosa, João Móra, Ana Vasconcelos, Henrique Vasconcelos, Inês Campos, Catarina Vasconcelos, José Manuel Mendes, João Pedro Mamede, Cláudia Varejão, Luísa Ministro, José Maria Rosa, Ana Margarida Vasconcelos, José Vasconcelos, João Vasconcelos, Nuno Vasconcelos, Teresa Vasconcelos, Pedro Vasconcelos, Henrique Serpa de Vasconcelos
  • Cinematographer
    Paulo Menezes
  • Editor
    Francisco Moreira
  • Sound Design
    Rodolfo Cardoso, Miguel Martins
  • Music
    Madalena Palmeirim