Review: O, Collecting Eggs Despite the Times
by Marta Bałaga
- Pim Zwier’s Best Directing Award winner in the Envision Competition is one of IDFA’s oddest films, and also one of its best
Pim Zwier collected the Award for Best Directing in the Envision Competition at IDFA (see the news), so praising his film O, Collecting Eggs Despite the Times shouldn’t feel like such a stretch after all. But there is no denying that it’s an odd proposition, as loving close-ups of eggs are followed by drastic footage of violence and ruin that ravaged the globe during World War II. Let’s start from the very beginning, though.
Zwier introduces German ornithologist Max Schönwetter here (1874-1961), the man who devoted his life to oology ever since a flat pebble he picked up one day turned out to be an egg. It actually sounds like an understatement, that “devoted his life to” line – the amount of time, dedication and pure love that went into his ever-growing collection could be seen as either unnerving or touching. In his “quest for a complete overview of the eggs of the entire avifauna”, he wanted to gather them all, describe them in minute detail and create a definitive handbook that would give his work some closure, one would guess. And, most importantly, he also continued during the war, which moves the film into absurd territory.
“If I get through this war with my collection intact, I will consider myself very lucky,” it’s stated here in one of the letters he would exchange with fellow ornithologists, collectors or soldiers. How could one worry about an egg collection, so fragile it’s almost laughable, when the world was literally being obliterated? It’s interesting wondering about that alone. Was Schönwetter clueless, didn’t he care, or was he maybe just trying to convince himself that, at some point, things would be normal again? There is something very human about clinging onto something that brings one joy but also provides a safe escape, a return to the days when people used to live and not just try to survive. Still, as the years go by, it becomes harder to ignore whatever is going on outside of his home, with food being scarce and illness affecting everyone’s loved ones, but complete abandonment is always out of the question. Even when a piece of shrapnel destroys some of the precious cargo.
Zwier has some fun with the subject of his film, clearly – instead of listening to people talk about eggs, you get to see them. We study them, just like these experts, noticing the differences in their size, colour and spots, as “eggshells can reveal secrets”, it is said. These are very tasteful close-ups, ones that Schönwetter himself would probably have appreciated, too, as well as re-enactments of those blissful moments spent in his study. Then again, the film is really about the mere act of collecting, the activity that can define someone’s entire existence while others remain stubbornly indifferent to it. Schönwetter kept on going, but he wasn’t delusional, noticing that what he had been doing for 65 years would prove interesting to maybe 20 people. At least now, his collection is finally getting a bigger audience.
O, Collecting Eggs Despite the Times was produced by the Netherlands’ Moondocs, which is also handling the sales.
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