Stare at Borneo native and Paris resident Nénette long enough, and she begins to resemble another stolid, thick-set immigrant to France: Gertrude Stein. Documentarian Nicolas Philibert, whose long, observational takes made even the conjugation of auxiliary verbs fascinating in his countryschool portrait, To Be and To Have (2002), invites such projections, his camera trained almost exclusively on the russet-haired simian for 70 minutes (the three other orangutans who share her cage, including her son, receive only cameos). Resolutely opposed to anthropomorphic sentimentality, Philibert asks that viewers ponder the listlessness of his titular subject, who has impassively looked out at spectators from captivity nearly her entire life. Off-screen voices—kids who marvel, “It looks strangely like a man”; zoo-keepers who discuss the particulars of Nénette’s psychology; an actor who soliloquizes on the toll of her boredom—emphasize our primate ancestry, as does observing Nénette enjoying her daily yogurt break, opposable thumb guiding the spoon before she devours the plastic container. Watching Nénette watch those who gape at her is an endlessly intriguing, multi-layered exercise in voyeurism.

“ …in the end Nénette remains resistant to our projections, an opaque block that harshly reflects our inability to understand that she is almost like us. Nicolas Philibert nonetheless films her with great tenderness, in tune with the sluggish pace of her daily life and the slowness of her movements…”
Thomas Sotinel, Le Monde

Nicolas Philibert

Nicolas Philibert

Nénette, Tubo, Théodore, Tamu

GENRE Documentary
PRODUCTION France, 2009
RATING Not Rated
FORMAT(S) Digibeta, DVD

Kino Lorber EDU