Anonymous Animals (Les animaux anonymes)

The master of the hunt.

(2020) Fantasy (Gravitas)Thierry Marcos, Aurélien Chilarski, Emilien Lavaut, Pauline Guilpain. Directed by Baptiste Rouveure.

For thousands of years, humans have been using animals for a number of purposes; for transportation, for agriculture, and of course, for food. There are those who are horrified by the state of things, seeing this as exploitation of the worst sort, literally a form of murder. Obviously, French film director Baptiste Rouveure is one of those.

His brief but memorable Anonymous Animals posits a role reversal, where animals are the users and humans the used. Shot in rural France, we see dog-like figures abusing their human pets, cow and pig factory farmers herding their terrified animals into dank, filthy pens for eventual slaughter, and most visually striking, a stag-headed hunter stalking the woods, rifle in hand. Or is that hoof?

There isn’t a coherent story here, just a loose collection of scenes in which humans show anxiety and terror at their situations, a human dog straining at a chain while tied to a tree, and the fear-filled eyes of a human herd being pushed into pens with cattle prods. The point here is obvious; Rouveure wants us to think about how animals are treated.

Certainly vegans are going to champion this film and with good reason. Beyond its salient point, the movie is beautifully shot in chilly early winter/late autumn woods and farm settings and one can’t argue that the premise isn’t a fascinating one (albeit one used at least once before, in the 2018 film The Farm). Still, even though the film is short, it feels much longer because of two reasons.

First, Rouveure makes his point early on and then continues to beat us over the head with it for the rest of the film, amounting to a sixty-minute lecture. Secondly, I couldn’t help thinking “Not all dog owners treat their animals this way” as well as “Not all farms are factory farms.” In fact, the farm sequences aren’t as visceral as they could be; most factory farms (if not all) are more densely populated, to the point where the poor animals are unable to sit or lie down. “Inhumane” doesn’t even begin to describe it, but the farm here is relatively spacious, likely because Rouveure either couldn’t recruit enough actors to make the point, or couldn’t afford to pay for more than he got.

While many of the anthropomorphic animals are not always easy to figure out what species they are (with the exception of the magnificent stag headpiece), the human versions of the animals are fairly easy to figure out. It might take a few minutes for those who view the film without knowing anything about it beforehand to figure out what’s going on, but they’ll catch on pretty quickly, I think.

So while this is a bit of a polemic for the cause of PETA, the audience it will likely reach are those who are already sympathetic to the cause. For those who most need to get the message, it is as likely they will be turned off by the bludgeoning-style of narration as they will be convinced by the message.

REASONS TO SEE: A creative, visionary concept. Unsettling in every sense of the word.
REASONS TO AVOID: Feels like an exercise more than a fully formed film.
FAMILY VALUES: There are some disturbing, terrifying images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Several extras are former or current first responders who have actually responded to tornado disasters in the area the movie was filmed in.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/10/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Farm (2018)
FINAL RATING: 7/10
NEXT:
Dune (2021)

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