May is the month in which we commemorate the victims of war and celebrates freedom. Eggs and war, a greater contrast hardly seems possible, yet they are bound together in O, Collecting Eggs Despite the Times. Through the correspondence on Max Schönwetter’s untimely embarkment on oology, or the study of birds’ eggs, and Zwier’s close-up photography of the eggs together with peculiar cinematic juxtaposition of human and fowl, a new light is shed on the formerly-unknown slice of history.
Cacophonies of goose honks and explosion, footages of marching Nazis switched up with those of birds nestling in the tree and clean close-ups of speckled eggs make for an unlikely set-up for this unconventional documentary. Awarded for Best Directing in the Envision Competition at IDFA, O, Collecting Eggs Despite the Times is praised by the jury for its combination of intense archive images, the tranquillity that the study of 19,206 eggs of 3,839 bird species brings, and the unique editing style that offers the viewer an unparalleled insight into the “times” of the war-torn Europe in the 20th century. Between the cold and clinical scientific research of and genuine passion for collecting the birds’ eggs, the film creates an interplay of contrast by placing side by side the fragility of the eggs, a metaphor for life, with the harshness of the war that entails millions of deaths.
Through the personal story that is recorded in these letters Schönwetter exchanged with the oologists and experts, or as Zwier calls an “intimate chronicle”, can we relate to the happenings and, as a result, better understand the nuance of history and see the past in a different light. These exchanges of letters also reveal something universally human: our attachment to certain objects that we hold so dear to and of which we shall not let go despite the circumstances. For Schönwetter, we could see his relentless curiosity that led up to his determination to study the “entire avifauna” and contribute to the field of oology. Ultimately, it was simply his love for the eggs and the quest to collect them that withstood the inconvenience and hardship brought about by the raging war.