That six-word sentence captures Bestiaire, this unique wordless documentary by Canadian filmmaker Denis Côté that has garnered rave reviews from critics. The Hollywood Reporter calls this film “compelling contemplation of the subjective gaze, applied to both humans and animals.”
The New York Times has recommended the film more than once. The Times’ Dennis Lim described the movie this way: “Named for the medieval bestiary, an illustrated compendium of animal fables, it is itself a kind of picture book come to life, not to mention a work of unexpected poetry and philosophical richness.”
The Times’ Manohla Dargis strongly recommended the film, which she described as: “Beautifully shot in digital, with steady framing and long shots that never overstay their welcome, it instead offers up image after image of animals—animals eating, grazing, walking, standing, staring and, at times, panicking.” She concluded that this film is “essential viewing.”
No, don’t worry. This is not a shocking animal-rights propaganda piece in which we confront shocking images before it’s finished. And, no, this was not photographed in a multi-million-dollar exploration of the entie planet—the stuff of those eye-popping high-definition nature documentaries from the BBC and other networks. Denis Côté shot some of his material in an art class as people sketched animals. He shot a bit of taxidermy. Mostly, he shot footage in a wildlife park—a small zoo—in Canada.
Now, if that description makes you suddenly turn away from this, dismissing it as an arty documentary made on the cheap … well, you haven’t quietly watched the 72 minutes of Bestiare.
As we view, we are watching animals watching us watching animals. That’s the spiritual treasure of this film—yes, spiritual treasure. Watch it with a group of friends, then sit back for a moment in silence before you talk about it. You’ve never watched anything quite like this.
Nor have these animals watched—you.
This film recently was released by the KimStim Collection of Zeitgeist films on DVD.
MOVIE REVIEW BY ReadTheSpirit EDITOR DAVID CRUMM
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.