Transitional care facilities are all the rage this cinematic season. Following Destin Cretton’s sensational Short Term 12, Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq’s These Birds Walk showcases another such supportive environment, and is a touching portrait of youthful resilience and displacement set amid the drab backdrop of war-ravaged Karachi, Pakistan.
Abdul Sattar Edhi began the Edhi Foundation as a safe space for runaway boys, one of many humanitarian efforts that have earned him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination. His paternal presence opens the film: He washes small, malnourished children by hand in a basin on a gravel floor, a surrogate caregiver for what seems like a lost generation.
A documentary on his lifesaving work wouldn’t be inappropriate, but Birds smartly shifts focus to the languishing youth, mostly 12 and under, whose heartbreaking stories are made even more sobering by the directors’ observational, associative style.
The circumstances behind each boy’s presence at Edhi vary: Some were accidentally separated from their families; others, like Omar, flee to the haven either to escape an abusive parent or the neighboring and dangerous Taliban. During one particularly moving sequence, Omar picks a fight with everyone around him while he looks for a lost sandal, only to see that it’s just beyond his grasp outside the facility’s gate.
His tough-guy posturing quickly disappears when he retrieves the shoe and bursts into tears, showing that, for boys in his situation, the smallest victory can be the most profound.
This lesson is one the filmmakers understand well, which is what makes These Birds Walk so moving.