Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Watching an orangutan is like watching your Gran on a lazy summer’s afternoon. These apes are so human you wonder why they don’t ask for a second cup of tea rather than unscrewing a plastic bottle and pouring some into a used yogurt pot and taking a sip.

Nicolas Philibert’s beautifully conceived film of orangutans, especially the eldest, Nenette, in the zoo at Paris’ Jardin du Plantes, charms you with its shots of young ones at play and the old lady enjoying “the quality of idleness.” Her expressive mouth, her placid face (“You can tell her mood by the look in her eyes”), her delicate eating habits suggest other stories, even thoughts, fading with time. The camera is intimate, inviting. “I never initiate contact,” one of the keepers says. “It is her decision.”

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The simplicity of the concept is sublime. Seeing these apes, often moving in what appears to be slow-mo, but isn’t, feels like watching Swan Lake under water. She makes no sound. They make no sound. There is mystery in their being. You wait for an insight and however much you empathise with the silence of their days you never stop worrying about incarceration. You see the size of the cage once as the camera moves back. It appears so small.

She has been here forever. She has had three husbands and four orangutots. She lives with one of them now and is on the pill, just in case. She is sprinkled with sawdust. Whoever cleans her home must love her. She looks through the glass at the faces gazing back (“It is a female. You can see her titties”) and you know - possibly the only thing you know - that she doesn’t give a damn. Would she be so bored in the jungle? Would she be so safe?

There is no narrative, only the voices of the public and snatches from interviews with her handlers.

Reviewed on: 17 Jun 2010
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A look at the life of the eponymous orangutan, imprisoned in a zoo.
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Director: Nicolas Philibert

Starring: Nénette

Year: 2009

Runtime: 68 minutes

Country: France


EIFF 2010

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