Anonymous Animals (Les Animaux Anonymes) (2020)

Georges Franju’s short 1949 documentary Blood of the Beasts (Le Sang des Bêtes) used explicit animal slaughter footage to contrast with the rural idylls beyond the abattoir, and more obliquely to evoke the mechanistic massacres of the then recent Holocaust. Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) had a family of laid-off slaughtermen treating hapless intruders as cattle, while one of them wore the faces of his human victims as masks. And Melanie Light’s short film The Herd (2014) followed women trying vainly to escape the farm where they were penned like cows for industrialised insemination and milking. All three of these films were concerned with the place of animals in our food chain, and all three have evidently had their influence on Baptiste Rouveure’s feature debut Anonymous Animals (Les Animaux Anonymes), which comes in at just over an hour in length.

The conceit here is a simple yet effective one of rôle reversal. Mute humans are treated like animals – hunted, transported and slaughtered for food, made to fight each other –  in a variety of overlapping, episodic scenarios, while their persecutors/owners are fully-dressed, car-driving, tool-operating, gun-toting humanoids with animal heads. The type of animal head, be it deer, or dog, or bull, or horse or bear, gives some indication, via an inverted exchange, of the kind of treatment about to be meted out to their captors, allowing Rouvere to exploit our grim expectations without for the most part having to let the full graphic horror of what is going on play out anywhere but in our imaginations. The fact is that we already know how each of these scenarios ends, and that knowledge both adds to their awful tension, and highlights our own complicity in the abuse and butchery to come.

Beautifully shot by DPs Kevin Brunet and Emmanuel Dauchy in the misty autumnal countryside, Anonymous Animals uses its grotesque imagery to show humans at their most bestial, and to intensify our empathy for animals, merely by swapping them around. No matter whether this represents Sadean surrealism, vegetarian tract or nature’s revenge, it certainly reflects back at us that strangest and cruellest of creatures, the human animal. For like George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1945), this is an allegory of us – and if, in its final, fleeting image, as in its opening sequence, the shoe is back on the other foot, nonetheless the horror of who we are and what we do remains. 

strap: Baptiste Rouvere’s surrealist nightmare inverts the place of humans in the food chain

© Anton Bitel