“Who Killed Brown Owl?” Is the first installment in the “Civic Life” series, seven short feature films by Irish Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy. This duo, also known as Desperate Optimists, is originally from the theater world and only later switched to film. In the elaboration of their ideas, these Optimists betray an approach that is as idiosyncratic as it is stylish. The films usually consist of one uninterrupted take, are populated by non-professional actors and often deal with the same theme: communities.
The atmospheric “Who Killed Brown Owl?” Is an excellent introduction to the work of Molloy and Lawlor. The film – without dialogue but with uninterrupted musical support – is a ten-minute tour through a sun-drenched park. Something seems wrong in that park, and the body lying in the middle of a path is not even the worst.
The viewer suspects that something is wrong before the body appears. The music – the rainy “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” by Vaughn Williams – always seems to herald something fatal and is a melancholy contrast to the summer images. But there is also something wrong with those images. Not only that they are presented in slow motion, which adds to the surreal atmosphere, but it is becoming increasingly clear that we are not looking at an ordinary spectacle. Instead of a park where visitors integrate and communicate, we see separate clubs without any interaction and dynamics. Tableaux vivants from which very occasionally, in a thoughtful choreography, a few escape.
This immediately brings the theme of “Civic Life” around the corner. In “Who Killed Brown Owl?” We see a community from which every sense of community has disappeared. A child who looks at the corpse with fascination for a short time soon returns to a puppet show. The man sitting next to a cyclist that has hit another cyclist looks in vain for help.
As in most Civic Life films, it is a shocking event (pregnancy, illness, death) that demonstrates the need for a sense of community. But what’s the most shocking: the corpse with the ax in its back, the baby that seems to have been left on the grass, or the disinterest of the park visitors? All in all, “Who Killed Brown Owl?” Is a cinematic treat that also has something meaningful to say about modern humans and their environment. He also proves that a film doesn’t have to take an hour and a half to be a gem.