4.5 Stars
Year Released: 2007
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 62 minutes
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There is a temptation to talk about “When Pigs Fly,” Eric Breitenbach and Phyllis Redman’s collaborative feature debut, in platitudes. A tidal wave of touching taglines comes to mind: ‘Inspiring…An empathic portrait!’ ‘A testament to the triumph of the human spirit!’ But to consider the documentary in such self-congratulatory terms is to miss its nuances.

Officially, the film tells the story of Lory Yazurlo, a quadriplegic animal lover who, since becoming paralyzed after a trucking accident in 1991, has lived on her 20-acre pig sanctuary in Bunnell, Florida. On the surface the rural setting seems absolutely bucolic. In addition to a folksy soundtrack, Breitenbach and Redman bring a luscious visual sensibility to the film that is rooted in their breadth of experience working in still photography. Although this is only Breitenbach’s second feature (his 2002 film “My Father’s Son” aired on Sundance Channel), and Redman’s first, their meticulous composition of shots and awareness of light and color makes for one of the most visually suggestive bits of digital video I’ve seen. Pigpens, and their inhabitants, never looked so pretty.

But there’s a dark sensibility amidst all this Americana. “When Pigs Fly” is a family narrative that is slightly twisted, with a dark humor about it all—not ironic, not sardonic, but not entirely celebratory either. In one scene, in which Lory spends an excruciating amount of time edging herself out of bed and into her wheelchair, or in another, where her stalwart mother Charlene cheerfully empties out Lory’s urine bags, it becomes clear that Lory’s survival is an ongoing process, full of mundane difficulties.

As the film progresses, a situation that was precarious from the start seems, by the end, to be at its tipping point. A series of troubles—legal battles with the trucking company over compensation, a broken wheelchair that leaves Lory bedridden—drive Lory into a deep depression. Meanwhile, despite Lory’s protests that ‘there isn’t a testicle on the place’, the pig population multiplies exponentially. Always a drain on her finances, Lory’s brood now threatens to run her into the ground for good.

This is one of the paradoxes this film bears out so beautifully: Lory’s stubborn attachment to the animals tells us that on the one hand, she is a survivor, but on the other she’s pathological—an animal hoarder who prefers the company of swine to humans. The film’s strength is that it leaves these contradictions unreconciled. Always steering clear of an overt didacticism, Breitenbach and Redman let the viewer choose how to see Lory. To some, she’s only recognizable according to her side-show name, the Pig Lady of Bunnell, doubly dismissible as disabled and loony. To others, she comes across as one of those rare individuals who communes with non-human animals, a pig-whisperer of sorts. In fleshing out, and allowing for, these contradictory perspectives, “When Pigs Fly” forces our hand in considering our own judgments, and the power we wield in that moment.

Posted on March 29, 2007 in Reviews by

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