This isn’t about bullying, but physical and emotional aggression in general, how it spreads seamlessly like a virus, hollowing out those who are weaker and more pure of heart. Sure, technology plays a role in this epidemic, but it’s a destructive attitude that seems to be organically part of some of us, young and old. What’s really scary here is that every adult is basically faceless/silent and the various teenagers each a master of deflecting accountability. This makes for a very dangerous and disturbing cocktail. Opening and closing long shots are mirror images of each other, one man’s sudden dumping of traumatic symbols simply to erase them from his particular view of the world.
My Mom once told me that as a kid she used to sit for hours watching animals and insects in their natural habitats; ants crawling in and out of their holes, a flock of deer grazing in a meadow. Denis Cote’s experimental documentary relies on this same observational poetry to examine what can only be described as the antithetical experience of viewing animals in their pure state: the modern zoo.
Despite the fact that this is a film about barriers and bars, the nature of watching, waiting, examining, noticing patterns of movement, relishing the silence of a given moment, Cote establishes a sense of freedom and improvisation within the cramped spaces and static compositions. Certain shots feel like thematic hand grenades: Zebras butting up against a metal enclosure, their angry cries and loud banging echoing the horrific and protracted violence of captivity. Then there’s the monkey paws sticking through chain link fence, glimpses of life and texture and fur protruding from a seemingly infinite man-made structure. Also, the bobbing head of an Ostrich in close up, its unpredictable physicality coming in and out of the frame, uncontrollable within a given space, by either the zoo or cinema.
This is a very special work, one that is both a celebration of the animal kingdom’s endurance and an indictment of man’s penchant for snuffing out the beauty of natural uncertainty for artificial pleasure.