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'Bestiare': Animal life, contemplated ★★★

Michael Phillips

6:06 PM EST, November 15, 2012

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As I write this, my son is playing "Call of Duty: Black Ops 2" in the next room. And the film I just finished watching, "Bestiare," a stoical, contemplative look-see (non-fiction by category, but not really a documentary) filmed in and around a Quebec animal park, represents the polar opposite of anything in the culture with the word "ops" in it.

It's a small film but quite shrewd and lovely, akin to such documentaries as "Our Daily Bread" and the trippier "Le Quattro Volte" in its rhythm. A former film critic, the Montreal-based director Denis Cote presents zebras, llamas, simians and ostriches (and others) on view as part of a somewhat eerie circle of life, each living being an object of the human gaze.

"Bestiare" opens with beautiful, wordless shots of four young drawing students sketching a stuffed deer. From there the film allows the non-humans some lingering, fixed-camera screen time (one shot of a particularly imposing buffalo — I think it's a buffalo — lasts 58 seconds). When the first ostrich eases into camera view, we see only the top of its head, and a pair of bulbous eyes; the rest of the frame, as configured by Cote, is dominated by the bird's confines.

Cote, whose previous works include documentaries titled "Curling" and "Carcasses," has said he approached "Bestiare" not as an anti-zoo polemic, or a blunt instrument hammering the theme of humankind's exploitation of the other species. Rather, he said, he's simply out to encourage us to see these creatures. To "show without telling," in his words. The film, in his estimation, is a "docile" achievement. Perhaps, but docile does not mean dull, and its modesty does not mean the achievement is not worth your contemplation.

mjphillips@tribune.com

'Bestiare' -- 3 stars
No MPAA rating
(some grisly taxidermy images)
Running time: 1:12
Opens: Friday (through Wednesday) at Facets Cinematheque