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
Denis Côté (November 16, 1973 in Perth-Andover, New Brunswick in Canada) is a filmmaker and producer in Quebec, home Brayonne. Independent filmmaker, he is often considered one of the leaders of the new Quebec cinema, terms for his part he denies.
Cinephile, he studied cinema at Ahuntsic College in Montreal and founded nihilproductions (not to be confused with Aes-Nihil Productions) around 1994. Very active, he turns fifteen short films, including Kosovolove (2000) and La sphatte (2003). Meanwhile, he is a journalist in radio theater, cinema desk editor for the weekly Montreal cultural ICI from 1999 to 2005 and vice president of the Quebec Association of Film Critics (AQCC).
In 2005, his first feature, Drifting States, won the Golden Leopard (video) at the Locarno International Film Festival and the Grand Prix Indie Vision International Festival Jeonju, Korea. In November 2007, the film is one of ten selected by the Cahiers du Cinema in programming A Weekend of unpublished… read more
a film almost deprived of emotionality. the first half of the film features one of the most violent cameras I ever saw - not about showing everything, but about forcibly holding the animal in spaces it doesn't belong, for us to see.
Cote has made a wonderful reflective, observational, dialogue free examination of our relationship with captive nature and wild beasts. Using the concept of 'the bestiarie' as a launching point Cote had access to a zoo/amusement park in southern Quebec (Parc Safari) and follows the workings there through three seasons. Our gaze is often reflected back and the silence speaks volumes. Cote continues to surprise.
So stunning and profound-- so restrained, rigorous, and full of respect for his subjects. I was more than moved, this film is such an important contribution to cinema. It was with a heavy heart that I left the theatre- this is best film I have seen this year.
An evaluation of the feature films programmed in TIFF’s Wavelengths section.
One of the highlights in the Forum lineup this year.