Safari (2016)

Review #1,516

Director:  Ulrich Seidl
Plot:  The documentary follows wealthy tourists going on safari to kill animals.  

Genre:  Documentary
Awards:  Official Selection (Venice & Toronto)
Runtime:  91 mins
Rating:  PG13 for disturbing scenes
International Sales:  Coproduction Office
Singapore Distributor:  Anticipate Pictures

Safari, the latest work from Austrian filmmaker Ulrich Seidl, is not for the faint-hearted, nor it is a film that anyone could see without dry retching (physically or psychologically).  No doubt it is a provocative work, but that doesn’t mean it is necessarily an interesting film.  A documentary on animal hunting as tourism in Namibia, Safari feels like a standard-fare piece with talking heads that offer temporary reprieve from extended shots that trail the human subjects as they mark out which animal to kill in the wilderness.  

And then they proceed to kill with a single shot that pierces through the air and into the flesh.  It is a devastating moment; the worst of humanity encapsulated in a single second.  The tourists marvel at their marksmanship, while a zebra or giraffe lies on the scorched earth, taking its last breath.  They  then take photos with their prize.  

This pattern is constantly repeated as Seidl tries to find some kind of morbid monotony to the whole bloody affair.  Occasionally, we follow the carcasses into a makeshift abattoir where they are skinned—these are some of the most disturbing scenes ever shot, and they cannot be unseen once they are seen.

As to whether Safari is a riveting documentary, the answer is no.  It struggles in its routineness, though some might find the experience illuminating, that these tourist hunters revel in the tedium leading up to their kill.  It almost feels like playing a game of murderous golf—but these are people who speak about how they are actually doing a service to the animals they kill.  Well, some animals are old, some are sickly, and they are putting them out of their misery… 

How does one know?  How does one justify?  If anything, Seidl’s film questions Man’s twisted capability of justifying one’s morality.  In one of the interviews, the subjects speak with sheer nonchalance about which type of rifle model is more suited to kill a particular type of animal—these kinds of conversations are the most disturbing of all.  

Controversial it may be, Safari has a strong subject matter, but lacks fascinating, unique people—Seidl could have picked any other set of European tourists in Namibia engaging in the nefarious practice, and the documentary would have largely felt the same. 

Verdict:  A highly-disturbing documentary about animal hunting in Africa, but it is not riveting enough to sustain despite its subject matter.




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