[…] «Safari» isn’t meant as a judgment, but it leaves the audience with the apparently easy task of judging the deeds and behaviours that clearly express racism, a degree of cruelty, and an old colonial flavour.
[…] The ritual of taking a picture of the winning hunter and the dead animal – the “item”, in hunting jargon – forms a bridge between the activities of hunting animals and shooting films.
[…] Killing is a means to eliminate the unpredictability of life; to neutralise its threat against order and control.
In Safari, one can immediately recognize Seidl’s style: dry narration, symmetric photography, provocative images of the hidden violence of Western culture. In his last film, one can see that less room is left to aestheticism and that Seidl’s documentary focus is very narrow, as he follows the few Austrian characters in their hobby of hunting and killing wild animals in a safari park in Namibia. Very few elements about the African context are added: an interview with the manager of the park, the butchery of the dead animals by African workers. Seidl wants to understand the point of view of the perpetrators and gives the word only to them, allowing us the possibility of experiencing their world and their dreams. This empathic aim of the film goes in two directions: towards the Austrian “tourists”, and towards the innocent animals. In this way, we find ourselves in a situation that is twice as uncomfortable, for we get closer to people who elected the killing of animals as an exciting sport, and we participate in a hunting show that is organized in a climax, being the hunted animals displayed increasing in size, and ending up with the attempted slaughter of a giraffe.
Safari isn’t meant as a judgment, but it leaves the audience with the apparently easy task of judging the deeds and behaviours that clearly express racism, a degree of cruelty, and an old colonial flavour. We also discover that this hunting activity is regulated in order not to interfere with the preservation of the species, and it even contributes to the improvement of the local economy. However, I think that the moral discussion that this film can arouse is not the most interesting aspect of the film. Even if Safari shares the same provocative ethical questioning that appears in some of Seidl’s other films, it stands out for at least two more general aspects.
The trophy-mania of safari hunters reveals itself to have a reflective power on the shooting activity of the documentarist, and especially for Seidl himself. The filmic document, which is often exceptional in Seidl’s work because it catches the wild side of people, appears to be a trophy itself. The ritual of taking a picture of the winning hunter and the dead animal – the “item”, in hunting jargon – forms a bridge between the activities of hunting animals and shooting films.
This aspect directly leads to the second, more general aspect that I want to highlight. The trophy-mania can explain the pleasure of killing. The trophy is not only the witness of the victory or the sign of the glory, but it is also a piece of the collection and a way to dominate and control wildlife. Killing is a means to eliminate the unpredictability of life; to neutralise its threat against order and control. In this sense, Safari can be interpreted on a deeper level, not only as a reflection on documentary activity, but also as a reflection on one of the most essential characteristics of human being.
To this respect, it is interesting to recall the wonderful 11th (b) of the Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus:
Manche, des Todes, entstand ruhig geordnete Regel,
weiterbezwingender Mensch, seit du im Jagen beharrst;
mehr doch als Falle und Netz, weiß ich dich, Streifen von Segel,
den man hinuntergehängt in den höhligen Karst.
Leise ließ man dich ein, als wärst du ein Zeichen,
Frieden zu feiern. Doch dann : rang dich am Rande der Knecht,
– und aus den Höhlen, die Nacht warf eine Handvoll von bleichen
taumelnden Tauben ans Licht... Aber auch das ist im Recht.
Fern von dem Schauenden sie jeglicher Hauch des Bedauerns,
nicht nur vom Jäger allein, der, was sich zeitig erweist,
wachsam und handelnd vollzieht.
Töten ist eine Gestalt unseres wandernden Trauerns...
Rein ist im heiteren Geist,
was an uns selber geschieht.
Text: Giuseppe Di Salvatore
First published: December 23, 2016