‘Tuesday’ flips the bird to Death in boldly visual work of magical surrealism

“Tuesday” — 3 stars

This insanely quirky, deliciously dark venture into magical surrealism doesn’t exactly celebrate death, but testifies to its necessary and purposeful existence.

Croatian filmmaker Daina O. Pusić’s “Tuesday” accomplishes this by focusing on a terminally ill teenager named Tuesday (a crew cut, sallow Lola Petticrew) and the extreme measures her desperate mother Zora (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) takes to literally clip Death’s wings.

Characters attempting to distract Death to buy more time on Earth have been a reliable plot device in movies (especially in Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal”) as well as TV series (notably Rod Serling’s vintage “The Twilight Zone”).

In “Tuesday,” Death takes the form of a mystical, crimson macaw parrot (voiced by Arinzé Kene), an omnipresent creature capable of adjusting its size from gigantic to minuscule. It speaks in an otherworldly rasp so dense and garbled that I could not understand some of the dialogue. (The sound system at Chicago’s Lake Street Screening Room is technically impeccable, so the fault lies with the filmmakers.)

“Tuesday” opens with a disturbing montage of Death taking souls. A woman spits on Death’s beak. A grateful man welcomes the macaw. Another man pleads for his life. The bird dispassionately passes a wing over them, and they die.

When Death alights at the side of Tuesday’s bed, she calmly and predictably asks for more time, not for herself, mind you, but for her distraught mother.

Sensing her imminent demise, Tuesday — imbued with winning understatement by Petticrew — tells an offhand joke, and that little unexpected act elicits a much bigger unexpected reaction, setting this movie off on a strange and challenging mother-daughter story emanating “Alice in Wonderland” vibes with bold and forceful visuals.

A terminally ill teenager named Tuesday (Lola Petticrew) meets Death in the form of a giant talking macaw in Daina O. Pusić’s insanely quirky piece of magical surrealism “Tuesday.” Courtesy of A24

Most of this movie works well.

Some of it doesn’t work quite as well.

But all of it works much better if seen with minimal prior knowledge. So, we’ll skip over a few spoiler details here.

“Tuesday” speed-shifts through a mishmash of tones and has no interest in explaining details (why a macaw and not a traditional bad bird, such as a raven?).

A ferociously de-glammed Louis-Dreyfus delivers a major breakout dramatic performance here. The former “Seinfeld” and “Veep” star invests her sad, frightened mother with surprising pluck and ingenuity, creating inventive, shocking ways to stop Death.

And she nearly succeeds, halting all avian executions around the globe.

A man screams in pain, dragging himself across a street. Insects and animals writhe in apparent distress.

Wait. That’s it? Death ceases around the world, and that’s all that happens?

Let’s consider the consequences of Death taking a holiday.

Nothing and nobody would die — people in car wrecks and plane crashes. Beloved pets would suffer forever with terminal tumors.

Germs and microbes can’t be killed, so medicines can’t stop illness and infections.

Hospitals would be flooded with incurable patients.

Zora doesn’t notice the actual costs of her actions — nor does she notice how selfish those actions are — because “Tuesday” doesn’t address them.

Director/writer Pusić — with a short and a feature to her credits — concentrates on emotional elements to trump logic and plausibility, resulting in a work of such intriguing imagination, courage and confidence that “Tuesday” inspires us to await her next movie with giddy anticipation.

• • •

Starring: Lola Petticrew, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Arinzé Kene

Directed by: Daina O. Pusić

Other: An A24 theatrical release. Rated R for language. 111 minutes

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