Bestiaire (Denis Coté)

Thanks to a reader of my blog, who made me aware of another slow film, I had the chance to dive into a hugely photographic piece of cinema. A while ago, I wrote a short post on Bovines by Emmanuel Gras. It is a film without dialogue. Just pure beauty. And cows. It traces the often overlooked lives of cows throughout the four seasons. It still is the most peaceful slow film I know.

Bestiaire by Canadian filmmaker Denis Coté is not much different at first sight. It is about (wild) animals in Parc Safari in Quebec (“Africa in the Heart of Canada”). Again, the changing seasons play an interesting role. Bestiary, or The Book of Beasts, was a medieval collection of physical descriptions of animals, often written in such a way as to highlight an animal’s special meaning or position in the world.

Bestiaire, Denis Coté

This seemingly little detail is in fact very significant. The animals we see in the film – horses, giraffes, bears, zebras – have been deprived of their special meaning in the world. They are all the same. They are an object of attraction for both the employees, and the tourists, who flock to the park in spring and summer.

They have been deprived of their special meaning because they have been put into captivity, where they cannot be the animals they really are. They cannot be wild. In winter, especially, when the animals are put into indoor shelters, we see, for example, zebras wanting to break out of their cage. Thus, the first half of the film is a bit depressing if you have a heart for animals.

Bestiaire, Denis Coté

The very fact that tigers, zebras and ostriches have lost their special meaning by having been put into captivity, can perhaps be seen as a concept for “subjects” (i.e. humans) in Slow Cinema as a whole. Are the characters still “special” and “distinct”? Are they not all in the same cage, the cage of poverty, oppression? The cage of loneliness and emptiness? Does it then really matter where the characters come from (geographically)? Just a thought…

Aesthetically, Bestiaire is stunning, though. It feels like a photo album from time to time. Coté is certainly one of those filmmakers with an incredible eye for frame composition. The camera is always static, as is often the case in Slow Cinema. I suppose that many shots happened by pure chance because it looked as if Coté had put the camera somewhere and had hoped that an animal or two would cross the frame. So while Coté certainly tried to set up the camera in such a way that he could get interesting shots, it is not all due to his work as director / cinematographer. He was very much dependent on the movements of the animals. I therefore see Bestiaire is a collaboration of man and beast, rather than “a film by Denis Coté” alone.

Bestiaire, Denis Coté

Watching Bestiaire might make you think that Coté is a slow-film director. In fact, he is, but his films are less Slow Cinema. I watched his film Curling yesterday, and though it did start off like a Slow Cinema film with regards to its aesthetics (long-take, static camera, medium or long shots etc), Coté moved away from those aesthetics halfway through the film, which confused me a bit. I don’t think there was anything in the narrative that could have asked for it, but then, don’t question a director’s aesthetic choices. You’re wrong about it more often than not.

Slow – The Film

It’s been quite a while now that I got totally excited about Bovines, a French (slow) film about cows, made by Emmanuel Gras. It sounds ridiculous, but the film was amazing. I’m still fascinated by the beauty in each frame. Slow looking is not just about art, it is about everything in our surrounding. I guess, cows are a good example for this. We take them so much for granted that we don’t perceive their beings anymore. The last time we did that properly was when we were little and still explored the world around us. We have stopped doing this. Now we wonder what could possibly be so interesting about cows that you need to make a film about them. Well, Bovines gives you the answer. I strongly recommend this film.

There is now a smaller version of slowness in (German) cinemas. I’m speaking of Slow, a film made by Sascha Seifert, which depicts quite fittingly the life of snails. When I saw the trailer, I loved it instantly. It looks like a peaceful slow film about life in nature; the embodiment of slowness, far far away from mechanical clocks which have caused so much trouble that we now have to step back and create events like Slow Art Day to remind us that we’re moving too fast. Anyway, the film will be out in Germany on May, 23rd this year. Unfortunately, there is no release date for the UK at the moment. It would be great to see this at a festival one day. I’d love to make this happen.

Cows, snails…who’s making a film about sloths? You can always be slower. (Perhaps this is my destiny. I shall think this through…)