It began, we must suppose, with the letters. Director Catarina Vasconcelos’ grandfather Henrique was a Portuguese sailor gone for long, homesick periods from his children and his wife, Triz. They wrote letters back and forth, but Henrique ordered the correspondence burned upon his death. His children, all grown with children of their own, reluctantly complied, respectful of his wishes while heartsore at their parents’ words going up in smoke. Vasconcelos’ beautifully pensive, lyrical debut feels like an attempt to unburn those letters, to fill in the gaps between memories with fantasy and fiction, and so to regain lost lives for a moment, the way, by spooling a loop of film backwards, she can reattach a plucked leaf to a branch.
“The Metamorphosis of Birds” is difficult to categorize, as a hybrid of memoir, metafiction, family history and gorgeously shot 16mm art installation. But that those distinctions are hazy is only