Sylvian Chromet’s ‘The Old Lady & The Pidgeons’

‘The Old Lady & The Pidgeons’ is a comic, surreal 20 minute animated short film directed by Sylvian Chomet. It follows the story of a poor Parisian policeman who plots to pose as a pigeon in order to be fed by a nutty old lady who’s a little too friendly with Paris’ pigeons. The film, for the most part, is without any dialogue. It’s beginning and end both feature some totally benign lines from some American tourists. Those few words in the film go to show how unnecessary dialogue can be as this film is a testament to visual storytelling.

“As the hallucinogenic drug-inspired regression sequences of his 2013 live-action film “Attila Marcel” made clear, Chomet has a gift for capturing flights of fancy.”

(John Hopewell, 2016)

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Notes:

  • Intro shows protagonist stalking American tourists dropping food all over the place. He eat’s their littered popcorn off the ground. He’s clearly hungry.
  • He stands over a man at a cafe about to eat his lunch and ogles his baguette. He’s a peculiar and hungry man. 
  • A cycle blimp passes overhead.
  • Protag walks into a park and discovers all the pigeons are ridiculously fat. They fall onto the ground like balloons. He discovers a little old lady feeding the birds enormous pastries.
  • We see the protag’s sorry apartment, ridden with roaches and leaking from the roof. He eats his evening meal; a tiny half eaten fish with a small glass of wine. 
  • There’s a wonderful transition from the fish’s bleary eye to his own.
  • The sound design here is painful; we can hear him chewing the bones of the fish and the knife sawing through them as he cuts it up.
  • He stamps on a cockroach before he slips into bed. He’s a cruel man.
  • Above his bed is a ‘Gendarmerie Nationale’ poster featuring a jolly fat man in a gleaming uniform. This contrasts him well, being a pale gaunt man in a filthy uniform.
  • As he lies in bed, the pigeons haunt him from outside the window.
  • That night he has a nightmare where he’s being fed by the old lady before being eaten by man-pigeons.
  • The next day he stalks the old lady home. On his way he passes an enormously fat dog.
  • She lives in a multistory town house apartment. There’s a crowd of pigeons round her window that have left a lot of bird poo round her window from over the years.
  • A bird falls from the crowd onto the pavement in front of the protag foreshadowing his own fate at the end of the film. He captures the bird and takes it home for his own project.He makes his pigeon disguise with the feathers from the abducted bird. The pigeons watch in awe from outside the window.
  • There’s another transition from the eye of the pigeon mask in the mirror to the peep hole in the old lady’s apartment door.
  • He enters her gleaming apartment. It’s well furnished, she has a lot of money. She sits him down at the table and hobbles into the kitchen.
  • She throws his hat onto the stand without looking. Does she entertain well to do guests frequently?
  • She brings him tea and he swipes her tea set off the table and it smashes on the floor. He points to his mouth and she returns to the kitchen.
  • He looks at a painting on the wall of an enormous roast dinner. There’s a transition from that to a rack of ribs being placed on the table.
  • He beings to feast on it while the old lady shows him a photo album full of pigeons dated from decades ago. Before she can even begin, he finishes and rudely leaves. He passes a huge fat cleaner on the stairs. Has the old lady been feeding everyone in the area? He tips his hat as he passes her. She licks between her buck teeth.
  • He gets home and dances to the beat of pigeons tapping on the window. Only in animation.
  • The time passes as the dates flick past on the calendar and he gets fatter and fatter. He now struggles to pass the fat cleaner on the stairs. The cockroaches feast on the featherless pigeon.
  • It’s christmas eve and the protag is round the old ladies and quaffing wine. She brings him cake before retreating into the kitchen.
  • As she leaves, he sees her turn into a plucked chicken.
  • He follows her in, squeezing his enormously fat body down the narrow hallway, disturbing all the paintings on the wall. He gets in and finishes a bottle of whiskey off the side and faints.
  • He gets up and peaks into another room where the old lady is sharpening some shears when an enormous fat cat comes through a back door and sits down at a dining table. The old lady begins to stroke the cat and it licks its lips, much like the cleaning lady did on the stairs.
  • He accidentally hoots on his party blower and gives himself away.
  • The old lady comes into the kitchen looking for him with the shears. The paintings are swinging on the wall in the corridor indicating his hurried escape.
  • As he struggles with the door to get out, she approaches him threateningly with the shears. He tries desperately to remove the mask but he’s too fat for it to come off.
  • He throws a bottle of wine at her head and she goes haywire. She starts darting round the room snipping at him and chases him onto the table where she snips at his feet as he dances to avoid being cut. He continues to struggle with the mask. He starts to take his shoe off to show her his foot and prove he’s a man as she makes a ladder up to him. She’s not convinced and in an effort to escape, he accidentally tips himself out the window.
  • The final sequence shows him shirtless and skinny again, pretending to be a pigeon in the street, pecking at crumbs. There is no happy ending, only some kind of justice served.
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