The French filmmaker Jean-Luc Goddard was once asked why he killed animals in his films, in an interview for Rolling Stone. He replied: “Well, why not? A lot of people are killed in Africa and Vietnam. Why shouldn’t I kill animals? It was not done because animals are animals compared with human beings; it’s just that if I had killed a human being I would have been put in jail.” The consintently provocative Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl takes full advantage of Goddard’s argument in his latest film.
Safari takes viewers on a horrific tour of Austrian holiday-makers who picked killing animals as their entertainment choice. The film is extremely graphic, with plenty of shooting, animals writhing in pain, being skinned, disemboweled and having their bones cut up. The gruesome experience is a very vivid reminder that such a morbid sport is still very much alive in the poorest continent on Earth.
The hunters are only preoccupied with the shooting and the pictures taken thereafter. They have no knowledge of whether the animals are endangered, they are not bothered by animal suffering or any sort of sustainability. Their arguments border the absurd. A young hunter explains: “death is deliverance, and we are delivering the old and the sick, and encouraging them to reproduce”. The owner of the abominable business is unrepentant: “why should I justify myself? It’s not illegal to shoot animals”. By the end of the movie, it’s these people you will probably want to shoot.
British viewers more used to David Attenborough’s fascinating nature documentaries, movies celebrating animal life and preservation will be undoubtly shocked by Seidl’s latest feature. Not only is the film merciless in its graphicness, but it’s also a distressing and inconvenient reminder of the wounds of colonialism. The white tourists never get their hands dirty. It’s the black locals that do the messy job once the zebras, giraffes, lions, gnus, wildebeeste or a myriad of other mammals are killed purely for pleasure.
Racism is pervasive in the film. One white man explains: “it’s not their fault that their black”. The blacks here are entirely dehumanised, they only exist to serve the whites. It’s as if they were another wild animal, except that they don’t get killed. The Algerian film Roundabout in My Head (Hassan Ferhani, 2015) also cunningly delves into the relation between slaughtering animals and colonialism – click here in order to accede to our review.
Seidl’s documentary-making style in unparalleled. The camera-work is almost entirely static, there is no voice-over, the pace is very slow and repetitive, and the subjects stare into the camera in a very unusual interview-style, interspersing monologues with long and awkward silence, and direct eye contact with the viewers. Once again Seidl uses documentary in order to expose the most repulsive obsessions of Austria. The difference is that last year Seidl went into people’s cellars in his own home nation to reveal guns, Nazi memorabilia and other disturbing secrets (in the doc In The Basement), while this time he travelled to Africa in order to expose colonialism and racism in very vivid, hot and thick red.
Safari is part of the BFI London Film Festival taking place this week – click here and get one of the few tickets remaining.
And don’t forget to watch the film trailer below: