Denis Côté’s latest is a startling 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 including buffalo, hyenas, zookeepers, zebras, taxidermists, rhinos, and ostriches silently inhabit uncluttered, beautifully composed frames, 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.”