Chris Marker’s “Petit Bestiaire”: A Cinema Essay

Rosemary O'Neill

In Petit Bestiaire, Marker turns his light-weight camera on animals and birds in this compilation of courts métrages. This essay film is poetically composed and includes Chat Écoutant la Musique (1990), an intimate sequence of his cat, Guillaume-en-Égypte; and Zoo Piece (1993), An owl is an owl is an owl (1990), and Slon Tango (1993), observed accounts of physical, social, and environmental displacement in public zoos. Marker’s deliberate pacing of these films and accompanying music/sound scores create resonant scenarios using both fixed frame and varied montage approaches without conceding the directness of the camera eye. His essay film bears witness to the reality of non-human animal subjects by engaging the viewer while challenging the viewer to question the social, political, and pedagogical semantics of non-human creature collection/display when distance from nature has become increasingly the norm, and the consequences of these displacements are marginalized. Marker also evokes memory of ancient, medieval, and early modern worlds where natural science and human moralizing often merged, as well as the charm of animals in children’s books. His incorporation of this essay film into the installation Zapping Zones (Proposals for an Imaginary Television), 1990-1994; and the CD-ROM Immemory, 1998, signals a migration of this essay film into multi-media platforms, again inducing an égalité du regard between human and non-human animal creatures.