Canadian filmmaker Denis Côté brings one of two documentaries to this year’s New Frontier on-screen offerings: BESTIAIRE, an experimental, observational study of animals and people.
Sundance Program Description:
A popular sensation in medieval Europe, bestiaries were catalogs of beasts featuring exotic animal illustrations, zoological wisdom, and ancient legends. Denis Côté’s startling BESTIAIRE unfolds like a filmic picture book where both humans and animals are on display. As we observe them, they also observe us and one another, invoking the Hindu idea of darshan: a mutual beholding that initiates a shift in consciousness.
Fascinating, beguiling creatures like buffalo, hyenas, zookeepers, zebras, taxidermists, rhinos, and ostriches silently inhabit uncluttered, beautifully composed frames of a locked-off camera, conducting curious affairs in holding pens and fields. Their unself-consciousness before the camera’s eye renders them equally objectified. Whether we anthropomorphize, poeticize, abstract, or judge them is up to us. Côté invites his audience to reflect on control and power as lions rattle cages, a taxidermist recreates a duck, and artists copy a stuffed deer. Using the film form to challenge the very notion of representation, BESTIAIRE is an elegant, bewitching meditation on the nature of sentience and the boundaries between nature and “civilization.”
Côté’s previous documentary CARCASSES, screened extensively, including in Cannes’ Director Fortnight, Toronto, and Locarno. His dramatic works have received critical acclaim and particular success at Locarno, with awards at that festival for DRIFTING STATES, ALL THAT SHE WANTS, and CURLING.
Why You Should Watch:
Absent of dialogue, Côté’s lusciously lensed film achieves a fascinating, almost hypnotic, effect. As noted above, viewers might respond in various ways to the diverse creatures offered up for display – from commonplace cats to exotic wild beasts – perhaps saying less about the animal being viewed (and viewing back), and more about the audience and their response to being confronted with their own awareness of the act of watching.