Bestiaire – Berlinale Forum 2012


Director: Denis Côté
Canada, France, 2012

Cubix 9, 13 February 2012

Denis Côté’s latest provocation takes its title and inspiration from medieval books pairing fanciful images of beasts with moral lessons. A masterfully composed film essay in the guise of a fly-on-the-wall documentary, Bestiaire questions what we see when we look at animals.

The film opens with eyes intently observing an object offscreen, which we gradually discern to be a stuffed deer, the assigned subject of a class of art students. From this glassy-eyed product of taxidermy, we are transported to a Montreal safari park in the winter off-season, where we view exotic animals in snowbound enclosures and restrictive holding pens as they return our gaze with watchful eyes.

Eventually we meet very strange and noisy animals, the humans who keep watch over the beasts, feed them, and clean up their shit. A symphony of images and sound ensues, building to a climax of noise worthy of San Quentin (1937).

Faded pinup girls and animal heads segue to an interlude in a taxidermy workshop, where we witness a grisly transformative craft by which a duck carcass is crushed, deboned, skinned, stuffed and posed into a simulacrum of the living animal.

The safari park in summer is a Babel of wordless voices and clumsy interactions of tourist families with animals, in which the beasts display a dignity somehow lacking in their human observers. A baby elephant takes a stroll alone, and credits roll over the sound of sketching.

While good to see in Forum, Bestiaire must have been a blast to see at Le Festival International du Film pour Enfants de Montréal. A film to see with the eyes of a child, or an animal.

Berlinale Section: Forum

Update: US Distributor – Kimstim Films (2012)