WISCONSIN International Film Festival, Madison, WI.
Thursday, April 19, 5:30, Bartell Theater
For more information: Wisconsin Film Festival 2012
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.” –Sundance Film Festival