Movie Review: Caged Birds

In 1980s Switzerland, Walter Stürm (Joel Basman) is escaping from prison once again, further cementing his status as the “Jailbreak King”. Using the chaos created by a clash between the police and criminal justice protestors, he slips away unnoticed, before reaching out to defense attorney Barbara “Babs” Hug (Marie Leuenberger), who is suffering through kidney failure, a condition she does her best to ignore. She agrees to a meeting wherein he hands her a report about the prisons that the Swiss government would definitely prefer kept quiet and asks for her assistance in fleeing the country. Barbara takes him across the border to a safe house in Germany, but Walter can’t keep himself out of trouble and soon winds up back behind bars.

While the two disagree about methodology, Barbara and Walter are drawn to each other, and so she continues to help him, with the aid of her coworkers and fellow protestors. Sturm continues to escape from capture, leading to harsher and harsher treatment by the Police, while Hug’s outspoken advocacy likewise leads to her being mistreated. But the public loves an escape artist, and so the general sentiment leans in their favor, even as the government does it’s best to avoid instituting any reforms,  even threatening to slip dangerously close to outright fascism.

Oliver Rihs direction is largely unremarkable, blending some artfully composed shots with shaky handheld moments to a degree that make it hard to discern any particular style in his work, though he gets the job done well enough. The script by Oliver Keidel, Norbert Maass, and Ivan Madeo is more interesting. While based on true events, and so unsurprising in its outcome, tonally the film takes some unexpected turns. The first two thirds mix prison escapes, courtroom drama, and backstage scheming to form a solid thriller with a nice dash of humor and sexual tension. Things take a surprising turn in the back third however, shifting gears into a more somber and reflective movie that makes one reevaluate the point of everything that precedes it. Leuenberger and Basman are perfect in the lead roles, with a natural push and pull that makes every moment they share on screen completely riveting. While Caged Birds serves to remind or enlighten audiences to a dark time in Swiss history, in essence the movie really seems to be a story of the ways in which damaged people hurt those around them, but also how it’s not too late for any of us to be redeemed. ★★★★

not rated. contains violence, nudity, sexual content, strong language, thematic content, drug use, and smoking.

Button KanopyButton Rent on Amazon

★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor

Leave a Reply