Nenette (PG)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner04/02/2011

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 70 mins

Surprisingly engaging, thought-provoking and impressively minimalist documentary, although it does eventually feel like you've just spent an hour and ten minutes in the monkey house.

What's it all about?
Directed by award-winning documentarian Nicolas Philibert (Etre et Avoir), Nenette spends 70 minutes in the company of Nenette, a 40 year-old orangutan at the Jardin des Plantes in Paris, where she lives with her son Tubo and a couple of other orangutans. The soundtrack is composed of the voices of unseen spectators (we occasionally see reflections of people but never of the speakers), edited with interviews with her keepers, who explain Nenette's life story (apparently she arrived from Borneo in 1972, used to be something of a terror and has out-lived three mates), anthropologists (or at least someone reading from a book about orangutans being observed in the wild) and an artist who draws pictures of Nenette.

The Good
Philibert's film is informative (you come away knowing quite a lot about orangutans), thought-provoking (particularly on the endangered species v life behind bars issue) and surprisingly engaging. It's also frequently quite funny, whether because of whatever the orangutans are doing (kissing the glass – apparently orangutans go crazy for redheads) or because of something the spectators say (a child repeatedly yelling “GORILLA!” or the mother exclaiming “She's the same age as your daddy!”)

Interestingly, Philibert also films Nenette at a time when the zoo is completely empty, sharply bringing home the idea that Nenette is spending her entire life behind that glass wall; it's no surprise that one of the keepers later compares her life to that of a prisoner, though on that note, it's also nice to discover that there are some people who come to see her regularly, “like visiting a relative in jail.”

The Bad
The only drawback is that the film eventually feels like you've spent far too long hanging around the monkey house, with all the inherent sadness that that implies – it is, for example, impossible to conclude that Nenette looks anything less than bored out of her mind.

Worth seeing?
Nenette is a strikingly original, frequently rewarding documentary that is both moving and thought-provoking. Worth seeing.

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Nenette (PG)
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Content updated: 14/12/2017 20:52

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