Nénette (2010) – Review

Nénette tells of an orang-utan in a Parisian zoo...

Nénette is the latest offering from the director of the surprise smash-hit documentary Etre et Avoir, Nicolas Philibert. It tells the story of Nénette, an ageing orang-utan whose existence in the Jardin des Plantes zoo in Paris continues to amuse and surprise onlookers. The style of the film is probably the most notable thing about this otherwise dull piece – the camera never leaves Nénette or her son Tubo, while the voices of the meowing and giggling humans projecting human feelings and emotions onto the staid figure sat chewing carrots before them.

The film goes from fun and surprising – ‘There’s a close-up of an orang-utan on screen! How amusing!’ – to the realisation that comes after fifteen minutes of orang-utan close-up – ‘The orang-utan close-up is never going to end, is it’. This could have really worked well if the film was beautifully shot, or if the subject was in any way interesting to look at for longer than two minutes. The audio, perhaps the only thing to actually concentrate on and to hold our attention in the film, is of poor quality. This is all consistent with the cinema verité style, of which Philibert is a practitioner of, but when the subject offers nothing of interest then the style becomes its downfall. Cinema verité works best when the story and characters are so strong that any attempts to over-polish them actually works against the content. This film needs to be more polished, and with just a little bit more sheen.

The images the film presents us with come across as incidental and random, and the audio doubly so. We get idiotic ramblings from passers by wondering whether or not Nénette has a husband, and children repeatedly pointing out her breasts. If Philibert’s intention with this documentary was to show the idiotic and absurd cruelty inherent in the whole zoo spectacle, to reveal the stupidity of the public who pay to see our animal cousins born and raised in a plastic prison, and to try to replicate the boredom of sitting on display, watching customers mindlessly pass by in the minds of the viewers of this documentary, he has succeeded. It would have just been nice to see a little bit more gloss on the finished product.

Blair Waldorf and Dan Humphrey, two of the main characters in Gossip Girl, love this film – make of that what you will.

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