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Animal, Mineral, Vegetable

Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le quattro volte (2010)

In the early days of the pandemic, the “nature is healing” meme offered a few welcome moments of levity. While we humans locked ourselves down behind closed doors, the air was supposedly clearer, the rivers cleaner, and Kashmiri goats wandered freely through the empty streets of a seaside town in Wales. Some took the notion of an “anthropause” and ran with it, photoshopping up images of dinosaurs lumbering through Times Square or cows “returning” to the ocean.

Now that we’ve been out and about again for a few years, many of us have shelved our briefly revived interest in the natural world—but not all of us. The centerpiece of the new issue of Senses of Cinema is a dossier, Becoming Nonhuman, which aims to “rethink anthropocentrism, whose values are ubiquitous and particularly evident in the way [a] film is shot, point of view, and narrative form.” A series of exhibitions on view at the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Athens next year will ask, Why Look at Animals? And throughout June, Berlin’s Kino Arsenal will present a thirty-film series curated by James Lattimer, Animal, Mineral, Vegetable: Nature and the Non-Human in Film.

Lattimer’s selection of titles “from every single continent places contemporary cinema in fruitful dialogue with nearly a century of film history and gives equal weight to fiction, genre, documentary, essay film, and experimental cinema. In this way, the series seeks to bring a true diversity of cinematographic forms to bear on nature’s own limitless diversity.”

On Saturday, Lattimer will introduce the opening night program, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s fourteen-minute Night Colonies (2021), a study of insects and lizards skittering across a neon-lit bed in the middle of a jungle, and Govindan Aravindan’s 1979 feature, Kummatty: “Recently restored by Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, Govindan Aravindan’s enchanting children’s classic is bursting with bright colors and ravishing images of nature, a fairy tale that wanders deftly between the cheerful and the melancholy on its way to a joyful end.” For more on the film, its making, and its maker, see Arun A. K.’s 2022 primer for the Notebook.

Among the animals featured in the series are the newborn kittens in Alexander Hammid and Maya Deren’s The Private Life of a Cat (1947), the goat in Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le quattro volte (2010), the macaws and anteaters in João Salaviza and Renée Nader Messora’s The Buriti Flower (2023), and of course, the donkey in Robert Bresson’s Au hasard Balthazar (1966). Salt fuels the local economy on a Venezuelan peninsula in Margot Benacerraf’s Araya (1959), the earth quakes in Artavazd Pelechian’s La nature (2920), and Deborah Stratman will be on hand to introduce Ishi no Uta (1963), Toshio Matsumoto’s experimental portrait of a granite quarry, and Last Things (2023), her own deeply engaging yet light-footed exploration of the mineral world.

Rose Lowder will present a selection of her short films, including two from her Bouquets series, and other fruits and vegetables will include the flora Mary Woodvine studies in Mark Jenkin’s Enys Men (2022), the quince tree Antonio López García paints in Víctor Erice’s Dream of Light (1992), the watermelon a man falls in love with in Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s Vereda Tropical (1977), and the ancient cherry tree at the center of Haneda Sumiko’s Usuzumi no sakura (1977).

The series will wrap with Emilio Varavella’s Animal Cinema (2017), a thirteen-minute montage of footage furry and feathered rascals have shot with stolen cameras, and George A. Romero’s Monkey Shines, which offers “a twist reminiscent of King Kong,” as Michael Wilmington wrote for the Los Angeles Times when the film opened in 1988. “The character we love most is the ape running amok. This isn’t simple perversity. Monkey Shine’s monster is the most beguiling in any recent genre shocker. She’s innocent of any evil intent, motivated by love and duty: a tiny, amazingly adroit capuchin monkey named Ella (played by the nonpareil monkey actress Boo) . . . Watching this movie, one loves Ella, bleeds for her, wishes desperately to preserve her from harm. But hell and humanity carry their own demands.”

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