DIR: Nicolas Philibert
Following in the wake of the beautifully simple Être et Avoir, Nicolas Philibert brings his distinctively honest camera to rest on Nénette, a 40-year-old Orangutan living in a Paris zoo. An intimate portrayal of captivity and loneliness, Nénette is the total focus of Philibert’s cinematic eye for the film’s 70-minute running time. Aside from reflections in the glass of passing visitors, she and her fellow inmates are the only characters populating this strange twilight world of observer and observed. Throughout the film, Nénette’s soft features and human eyes gaze down the camera into your heart, raising questions and doubts on the morals of captivity and the depth of feeling apparent in these amazing creatures.
Perhaps most interesting are the recorded conversations of zookeepers and passers-by as they too come to visit Nénette and her son Tübo. Gazing into their enclosure, they marvel at her stature, her age, her breeding, her range of ‘husbands’, and finally – and inevitably – on her obvious languor and ennui. Captured when she was about 6, Nénette has known only this life of reflected glass and concrete gardens. She is the faded star of an old era – 30 years ago when she gave birth to her first baby, cameras followed her every move, and she was bathed in flashbulbs and attention. As time passed, so too did the attention; first onto her exuberant and comic son, and then even that reflected glory was taken from her. Having outlived her mates and left with the remnants of a former fame, she is the focal point for visitors who see more than a little of themselves in her fate. So, alongside the constant stream of children’s groups and families who wander by are those who see some of their own inability to conform reflected back to them in the glass.
Whilst not riveting viewing, there is a quiet dignity in Nénette’s bearing that compels you to keep watching. More soulful than National Geographic, and more human than you would imagine, Nénette is a film of meditation and silence that seduces in its simplicity and beauty.
Nénette is released on 4th February 2011