Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Nobody makes documentaries quite like Ulrich Seidl, and his latest work, Safari, following European tourists as they embark on a hunting holiday in Africa, is typically idiosyncratic. Interviews are intricately framed, symmetrical, harshly lit and distant, focusing more on the space than the subject, on the things they surround themselves with, barely even resembling interviews at all. People speak freely, never alone in the frame, using each other as prompts to further the conversation, surrogates for the silent interviewer. They speak of their passion for hunting, discussing beautiful animals, Africa, guns. One hunter describes his ideal trophy as a zebra because its hide is so beautiful, while another dreams of killing an elephant because of its “dimensions”.
And yes, these animals are, of course, beautiful. But the logic of beauty being the drive for these people to kill doesn’t really fit. There has to be something more than that. Seidl follows the hunters as they ride around the reserve, observing them as they stalk their prey. And then the reason for this killing becomes clear: firing these guns is an exhilaration. The power they have in these moments, maybe not even to kill something but simply to generate the deafening sound of a gunshot, is everything to them. It's visceral. It's a rush. The animals are just something interesting to aim at, like taking a picture of a loved one holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa to justify buying a camera. They get nothing but a picture to remember the feeling, and they never see the animal again. They just go back to their comfortable lives, knowing they've killed something beautiful. But away from the tourists, workers from a nearby village skin and gut the day’s kills, stripping them of anything that can be sold: meat, bones, the beautiful hides. Seidl never looks away as the men go to work, slowly, methodically, brutally dismembering the corpse of a giraffe. This bloody, destructive scene is the end product of the hunt, and the hunters aren't even around to see it. Do they even know this is happening? Does it even cross their minds? They got a picture for their Facebook, so what else is there to care about? The real horror of Safari is the blind eye turned to ugliness in the pursuit of beauty.