This is simply one of the most beautiful, haunting films I've ever seen. Every frame is a work of art, an image filled with mystery & meaning & visual beauty; yet it's not merely a series of static shots, but a living narrative of quiet power & purity that stays with the viewer like a deeply moving dream.
The story is simplicity itself: a young girl's homing pigeon loses its way & winds up wounded in a cage-like apartment complex in Prague, where it's nursed back to health by the lttle boy who shot it with his air rifle. He's unaware of what he did at first, until the artist who lives in a studio atop the apartment building brings him the injured bird. Clearly he wants the boy to appreciate the gravity of what he's done on an idle, thoughtless whim.
At the same time, the young girl on her small island waits for the bird to return, hoping against hope that it's merely delayed & not dead. The absence of the bird changes her life & the lives of those around her just as much as its presence changes the life of the boy Michal, who is confined to a wheelchair after a fall -- but it's fear that keeps him there, not physical injury. As he tends to the bird, he begins his own healing.
Yet I don't want to make it sound glib or formulaic, like some Very Special Episode of a bad TV show. It's anything but that! In scene after scene, using almost no dialogue at all, director Frantisek Vlacil gives us stunning, breathtaking images that are metaphoric, symbolic, but absolutely straightforward. Shot in black & white, the cinematography is almost a character in itself, using shadows & light to express a wealth of emotions. At times I was reminded of such disparate films as "Woman in the Dunes," "The Red Balloon" & "White Mane," and the work of both Cocteau & Bergman; but it's never imitative of any of these creations, and possesses its own unique vision.
And what does it all mean? It yields many interpretations: political, spiritual, psychological, personal. It has a special place for the power of art, as embodied by the somewhat stern but sensitive artist Martin, whose work becomes dominated by images of birds after his initial rescue of the wounded bird. While open to intellectual analysis, it touches the soul before all else. Why it isn't more well-known puzzles me, because it's a small masterpiece. Most highly recommended!