The fragile nature of the male ego is the subject of Halfdan Olav Ullmann Tøndel’s wonderful short film Bird Hearts. The narrative focuses on Benjamin (André Sørum), a man who is days away from turning 26 and has no set career plans. Unlike his younger brother Tobias (Steinar Klouman Hallert), who is visiting while on break from his studies in London, where one of his essays was published, Benjamin cannot even seem to narrow his focus. He claims to dabble “this and that,” which includes making short films and working on a philosophy degree, but seems unable to master any one thing. Despite subtly being overshadowed by his brother’s success, it is actually Benjamin’s girlfriend Maya (Stine Sørensen) who triggers a quarter-life crisis within the young man.
Indulging in a few after dinner drinks with Maya, Tobias, and their friend Veronica (Eline Grødal) one evening, the conversation soon turns toward past sexual experiences. When Maya reveals a passionate encounter with a stranger in Brazil during the middle of the Carnival Parade, Benjamin begins to question his own sexual potency. Unable to shake the jealousy and anger he feels, his behaviour threatens to destroy everything in his relationship with Maya that he once cherished.
By using sex as the catalyst, Tøndel weaves a captivating exploration of the male psyche. He shatters Benjamin’s virile mental mirror to reveal the scared little boy standing behind it. Benjamin becomes so consumed with jealousy that he not only looks at Maya with disgust, but neglects to truly listen when she repeatedly tries to reassure him about how happy she is with him. In one cringe-inducing moment he even goes as far to ask Maya “have I ever given you anything close to what he gave you?” For it is not enough to hear that he satisfies Maya, he must ensure that he measures up to a random one-night stand whose name she didn’t even know.
Similar to films such as Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut and Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure, Bird Hearts does a great job of exposing the fallacies within the male ego. Halfdan Olav Ullmann Tøndel skillfully deconstructs the misguided nature of men who associate their worth with their prowess in the bedroom rather than in their accomplishments in life or, most importantly, how they treat others. Benjamin may be turning another year older, but it is clear he still has a lot of growing up to do.
Screens as part of Short Cuts Programme 11:
Wednesday, September 16, 10:00 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Sunday, September 20, 6:00 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Ticket information can be found at the TIFF website.