There are two kinds of filmgoers: those who find transcendental bliss in long takes and an emphasis on moody noodling over narrative momentum, and those who view such deliberately paced art projects as the ultimate in self-indulgence. (This isn’t a judgment call per se; you either get off on such structuralist techniques or you don’t.) Albert Serra’s abstract take on the story of the Three Wise Men will cause massive flurries of impatient finger-tapping among the second camp. Card-carrying members of that first group, however, will view this biblical road trip with awe.
Like the Spanish director’s similarly free-form tweaking of Don Quixote—2006’s Honor of the Knights—this sideways swipe at well-known mythology treats its source material as a starting point. The trio of kings bearing gifts traipses through lush valleys and mountainous ranges that don’t exactly suggest the promised land; they also engage in banter that suggests both Beckett and Abbott and Costello. Whether or not they arrive at their destination becomes secondary to Serra setting up the potential for meditative beauty: a slow-moving sunset, a meandering long-shot stroll, a breeze blowing through trees. Birdsong’s hard-core adherence to such rigorous aesthetics is strictly for the true believers, but they will be rewarded tenfold.