Review: ‘Animus Animalis (a story about People, Animals and Things)’

Hot Docs 2019

3 mins read

Animus Animalis (a story about People, Animals and Things)
(Lithuania, 69 minutes)
Dir: Aiste Žegulyte
Programme: Animal Magnetism (North American Premiere)

In a series of vignettes, humans interact with animals. Hunters kill and butcher a deer, taxidermists preserve carcasses while museum patrons and staff interact with stuffed animals in exhibitions. But Animus Animalis (a story about People, Animals, and Things) is less concerned with the animals in its title, and more concerned with how humans interact with them when they die.

Aiste Žegulyte’s latest film is a fascinating subversion of an anthropocentric gaze. It privileges human experiences despite a focus on animals, which forces the viewer to consider the ways in which we engage with the natural world: presenting animals at the centre of her film, it becomes conspicuous that they are defined solely on human terms. In the film’s most striking scene, however, a live fox is inserted into the film. Let loose inside a museum, it explores, looks at the camera, and interacts with the stuffed animals on display. Forcefully, Žegulyte questions the anthropocentrism of her own film, bringing to the forefront the animal gaze, and emphasizing its deliberate absence from the rest of her documentary.

While Animus Animalis excels at this meditation on human and animal subjectivity, it is nonetheless a disturbingly nonchalant look at animal death. A doe lies with her guts popping out of her abdomen after an attack by a stag. A taxidermist’s workspace is littered with blood, bits of flesh, and dismembered animal limbs. A wolf pelt is petted and played with by a small child. Though Žegulyte is keenly perceptive when it comes to human interactions with animals, she is too distant when it comes to on-screen violence. Perhaps this was the point, to show how we take for granted non-human death. But it doesn’t land, feeling instead like it is simply the thing it is trying to comment on by showing an irreverence for animal life.

Animus Animals screens:
-Mon, Apr. 29 at 6:00 p.m. at Cineplex Scotiabank
-Tues, Apr. 30 at 12:30 p.m. at Cineplex Scotiabank
-Sat, May 4 at 12:30 p.m. at Cineplex Scotiabank

Visit the POV Hot Docs Hub for more coverage from this year’s festival!

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