Films: Bestiaire

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Canada, 2012, 72 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Animals, Avant Garde/Experimental, Documentary
Program: Documentary
Language: Silent

DIRECTOR: Denis Côté
Producer: Sylvain Corbeil
Editor: Nicolas Roy
Cinematographer: Vincent Biron

French-Canadian director Denis Côté (an SDFF guest last year) turns his gaze to the fascinating interplay of human beings and animals. Filmed at Quebec’s Parc Safari, where exotic creatures live in captivity to be ogled by hordes of human visitors, Bestiaire is a quiet, partially staged documentary that leaves us to manage our own reactions to the animals’ behavior and to their lot in life. Côté, whose previous films have focused on social outliers like a junkyard owner (Carcasses) and a motherless teenager (All That She Wants), reveals the cramped cells where the creatures are kept after visiting hours, and he hints at a kind of loneliness we may not be able to grasp.

Surprisingly witty and continually surprising, Bestiaire (the title refers to the type of medieval text that combined exotic animals and religious life-lessons) shows us a team of taxidermists as they seek to provide a kind of ironic immortality to the park’s expired “residents,” and it meditates, obliquely, on the idea of human spectatorship itself. At the same time, this distinctly anti-sentimental, non-Disneyfied film hints that the animals are curious about us, too. James Dickey's poem Encounter in the Cage Country comes to mind. In the last verse, a zoo-bound lion contemplates a human visitor wearing green-tinted sunglasses.

… your moves are exactly right

For a few things in this world: we know you

When You Come, Green Eyes, Green Eyes.


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