Film Review: Bestiaire (2012, Zeitgeist Films)

Physiologus, one of the most popular books of the Middle Ages, was a predecessor of bestiaries. The focus of bestiaires is not on accuracy, but rather using mythical creatures to convey legends or teach moral tales (Theobald, 1928; Curley, 1979). A new incarnation of these historical texts is brought to life in Bestiaire, a film by Denis Côté. The mythical animals that filled the pages of the book have now been replaced by sentient beings occupying a Canadian safari park. Insight into these different ways of being is captured through the lens of the director. The lack of narration throughout this film heightens the experience for the viewers. Interactions between non-human and human animals occur around feeding and maintenance of the park, medical attention, or simple observations. Although there are scenes of a taxidermist and some artists, the majority of the time follows the animals at a Québec safari park through the changing seasons. Visitors swarm to the park in the summer, but much of the film focuses on the isolated lives of the inhabitants during the other seasons of the year. These stark contrasts force the viewers to ask: Who benefits from this park?

By Karen Dalke

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