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Film review: Nénette

The grande dame of the Ménagerie du Jardin des Plantes zoo in central Paris, Nénette is an elderly female orangutan who's been coolly assessing the visitors who parade past her enclosure for almost 40 years.

Brought to France from her native Borneo in 1972, when she was around three years of age, Nénette has produced four children and outlived three mates.

She's seen and done it all, in fact, and is the subject of this short but surprisingly absorbing feature from Nicolas Philibert.

Like most of the other great apes, orangutans seem so close to us in terms of movement and gesture that we tend to anthromorphise the hell out of them.

It's this tendency that Philibert cleverly exploits by keeping his camera firmly fixed on Nénette and her cellmates, but setting his images to a soundtrack comprised of the musings of keepers and visitors.

The keepers shed a certain amount of light on Nénette's sometimes moody and truculent character, but even they seem mystified by who she really is and why she often seems so sad.

As for the punters, their ignorance at times is breathtaking, and perhaps she's picked up some French because at one point I thought I caught her sigh at some particularly idiotic remark.

Nénette often stares moodily into the distance as though remembering the rainforests of her youth -- I hope not, because her pitifully small enclosure would seem a pretty shoddy substitute.

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