(Finland, 80 min.)
Dir. Juha Suonpää
Programme: World Showcase (North American Premiere)
Cat people are a strange breed. Surpassed perhaps only by birders as the quirkiest of animal lovers, cat people obsess over paws, playtime, and bleps while being contentedly subservient to a creature with fickle tastes and expectations for bespoke meal delivery. Hannu, the Finnish subject of Lynx Man, is a titan among cat people.
Director Juha Suonpää chronicles Hannu’s story and his love for Eurasian lynx with an appropriately eccentric vigour. Lynx Man observes the daily habits of this man who lives alone on his farm near Köyhäjärvi Lake in the west of Finland. He reflects a deep respect for wildlife. When Hannu finds the body of a rare lynx, it triggers beloved childhood memories. He soon makes his estate and the woods around him a photographic sanctuary. 23 cameras adorn trees and hide in plain sight. Motion triggers their recordings. Much excitement and bewilderment ensues.
Hannu’s cameras capture exciting finds. Some mice scurry by, while rabbits hop through the woods. Moose do roam in the woods, too. Hannu gets some especially great footage when, just for fun, he places a mirror in the forest. The animals observe their reflection with interest, but the moose especially freaks out. Hannu, eccentric that he is, can’t help but laugh.
But then the waiting game pays off. A big beautiful lynx strolls through the frame. Its eyes glisten in the dark as it sniffs out the camera. While he observes the footage with keen interest, Hannu learns that there are several lynx in the area. He gets to know their unique markings and personalities. He even names them, yet he continues to respect the boundary between human and non-human animals.
The Wildest Cat
Lynx Man refreshingly refuses to anthropomorphize the animals in Hannu’s story. His observations emphasize the traits that make the lynx special. He respects their wildhood, and watches as families grow. This involves some suspenseful footage as he observes cubs scurrying behind their mother. Other cameras capture nasty predators, like wolves and foxes, on the hunt. At the same time, Hannu’s research debunks myths about the animals. He sees how the alpha male doesn’t move on to one mate after the next. (Although the alpha is a bit of a stud.) The cameras record the male hunting and providing for his mate and their cubs. He wanders the area, leaving his scent to deter predators. When the lynx isn’t nearby, though, Hannu strolls out and has a pee instead. He enjoys messing with the predators to protect his beloved cats.
Much like Hannu knows his cameras are catching extraordinary images, so too does Suonpää appreciate the animal before his eyes. Hannu is a character of Herzoggian proportions. Lynx Man harnesses his wild animal instincts. One sees the man with the full, unruly beard of whiskers howling at the moon, marking his territory, and roaming with cat masks. Aside from his beloved sauna, Hannu does little that the animals can’t do. Besides play the accordion, but monkeys have been known to play a tune.
Character-Driven Nature Doc
Through Hannu’s story, Lynx Man offers a drolly effective parable for environmental protection and conservation. The striking footage of his hidden cameras show the wonders of these cats in their natural states. They play, they roam, and they hunt with humorous curiosity. But what the cameras don’t catch is their relationship to their biggest predators: humans. Here’s one arena where Hannu accepts the difference between humans and animals. Only one can speak up, and he shares his own grief for the loss of a beloved lynx to show audiences the harm done in the name of sport.
Whereas other nature docs ascribe human traits to animals, Lynx Man observes the animal impulses that Hannu exhibits. The film questions the fine line between humans and the creatures with which they share the Earth. Hannu’s relationship to the lynx evolves from admirer to protector. His beloved alpha grows sick, while local residents commit senseless violence against other cats. He takes up a fight for these animals’ rights. Even this wildcat can be tamed.
Lynx Man screened at Hot Docs 2023.
Get more coverage from this year’s festival here.