Mia and the Owl

Directed by Constantin Müller | Review by Nora Jaenicke

Conveyed through the stunning aerial shots of the lush German countryside right from the beginning, the poetic and protective image of the owl is a constant throughout this touching short film about a young girl coping with her sister’s death. In some scenes, it is just a mysterious presence coming from the outside, when Mia opens the window of her sick sister’s room for example, and the wind causes the chimes to make a magical sound…We know from the very beginning that there is a mystery lingering somewhere above the unfolding of the stories’ events, something that we can’t possibly grasp.

A higher “knowing” that can’t be rationalized nor explained that accompanies the protagonist’s quest and that we ultimately have to come to terms with, if not resign to, if we ever wish to make sense of life’s tragic events… Within Mia, there is a need to cope with the inevitable tragedy of her sister’s death that isn’t satisfied by the ritual of a regular funeral. The little girl, who seems extraordinarily mature for her age, has an itch to explore this need through a very specific quest. In her mind, she wishes to make sense of the tragedy that has befallen her family, by seeing it materialized in the quest for an owl, which was, after all, her sister’s last wish.
 

 
Mia thinks that by catching the owl, she can send it up to heaven so that she can keep talking to her deceased sister. The protagonist’s clear goal doesn’t feel forced. The fairy tale like three-act structure of this film compels the audience to root for this courageous little girl from the very start, as she is being confronted with the tragedy and a responsibility far greater than the one a girl her age would normally have to carry: Mia is the only other daughter of her single overworked mother, who, given the difficult circumstances, clearly depends on her help to cope and carry on. The filmmaker manages to maintain a tone that remains delicate and never melodramatic, in spite of the tragic events that unfold and the heavy themes that the film tackles. This unique tone is certainly influenced by the extraordinary performance of the actress playing Mia and a gentle and never intrusive camera that keeps following her immediate reactions to her sister’s death, always lingering a little longer, instead of abruptly cutting to the next scene, in order to move the plot forward.

This stylistic choice allows us a much-needed space to ponder Mia’s existential questions ourselves. “Why do we die?” and “How do we cope with the loss of someone so dear to us?” As an audience, we are given the time to step into Mia’s shoes and feel what she does. What made this film such a touching cinematic experience is mostly given by the fact that we are effortlessly pulled into the little girl’s quest. Even though the story is not very new, the themes that the film deals with and the way it is executed still leave an impact in the audience, perhaps because the questions raised are so very universal?
 

 
Our attention is kept alive, by the wish to watch Mia succeed in her quest. The owl can’t be caught. Very much like the inevitability of death can’t be rationalized nor explained. As the old hunter, whom Mia meets at the end of the film, explains “It’s a wild animal. You are not supposed to catch an owl.” However, the journey that Mia has embarked upon did help her figure out her very own way of coping with the tragic loss. The ending is hopeful and strangely uplifting, as Mia sends a balloon with a picture that she drew attached to it up to heaven while standing in front of her sister’s grave. The protective presence of the owl is still there, now somewhat internalized. A new acceptance of what can not be changed, and the willingness to look up instead of turning away in sorrow, in the hope for a new beginning.

 

Nora is currently in post-production of one more short film -Joyce, also a short film version of a feature that she is hoping to make: A mosaic of interrelated stories that explore the American Dream and the plight of immigrants in New York City. She is an avid traveler, continuing to explore the world and telling stories about it, whenever she gets a chance.