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Nénette - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
cinema_holic
cinema_holic
Nénette
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Directing: C-
Writing: C
Cinematography: C-
Editing: C-



Nénette opens with a long, extended shot close-up of the title subject's eyeballs. These eyeballs belong to an elderly (40-year-old) orangutan who lives in a Parisian zoo. The eyeballs look this way, then that, then this way again. Repeat. Over and over. It o goes on long enough that you begin to wonder when the hell something is going to happen.

This proves to be an unfortunate harbinger of things to come throughout the rest of the film, which, visually speaking, is literally nothing but still-camera shots of orangutans, usually Nénette. At 70 minutes, the film is quite short by typical film standards, and it still feels like an eternity. You can only stand to sit and watch orangutans doing orangutany things for so long. And that "so long" is definitely shorter than 70 minutes.

The trailer for Nénette had also shown nothing but clips of the orangutan, but it was easy to assume that was just part of the marketing scheme -- come and see this fascinating, famous primate! Turns out it was actually a conscious decision for the film overall, a part of director Nicolas Philibert's "artistic vision."

Plenty of people really seem to be liking this film, but I found this "artistic vision," in the end, a bit excruciating. Clearly there was an intention to demonstrate Nénette's impact on the people around her, from the zookeepers to the patrons of the zoo (some of whom apparently come to see her daily), but that would have been far more effective had we been able to see any of these people. The closest we ever get is the reflections of people in the glass Nénette lives behind.

Sporadically, there are voice-overs. We hear zoo patrons talking to each other, openly contemplating what Nénette might be feeling at that moment or how comfortable she is with the life she leads. It is understandably fascinating to the public that she was born in 1969 and has been at this zoo since 1972. Other times, we hear the voices of zookeepers, a couple of which have worked with her for as long as she's been there. Once or twice we hear the voice of someone who is apparently some kind of primate or orangutan authority, and we learn an insight here and there. In no cases are these people identified by name or the specifics of their profession given (beyond the knowledge of some of them being zookeepers).

By the way? Orangutans are pretty ugly. They kind of look like your great-grandmother, just covered in red fur. As an added bonus they have a large pouch, which looks remarkably like a giant ball sack, hanging from under their chin. One of the disembodied voices explains that they only have a theory about this pouch: perhaps it allows them to make the sounds that can be heard for miles around. Apparently they never use it in captivity and it's the only sound they make in the wild, and even then rarely, so they are very quiet animals.

So: we've got a 70-minute film consisting exclusively of footage of animals that never vocalize and rarely do anything more interesting than drink tea out of a bottle. Well, there is the segment of the film that includes a wistful mood-setting song set to acoustic guitar and violin. This song accompanies footage of one of Nénette's baby orangutans spitting on the glass of his enclosure and then licking the saliva back off of it.

Nénette could have been approached cinematically in so many other ways, virtually all of them better than this. I saw the film last night and it's already left theatres after only one week, which is hardly a surprise. Hardcore animal lovers may like it; I can only assume the majority critics who liked it have a surprisingly strong affection for orangutans. From a strictly cinematic perspective, even for a "documentary" for which different standards are applied by default, it comes up far short.

'Nénette' will bore you to tears.


Overall: C-
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