You may know French documentarian Nicolas Philibert for To Be and to Have, his charming 2002 look at a little rural schoolhouse, its sensibly idealistic teacher and his too-cute-for-words students. The filmmaker's latest once again puts us in the position of thoughtful observer, but this time the subject is the strong, silent type: a fortysomething orangutan named Nnette, one of the more popular residents of a venerable Paris zoo.
Like most primates, Nnette is both fascinatingly familiar and strange, capable of almost human expressions yet totally unknowable (as well as massive and hairy). Philibert's interview-lite approach evokes an actual visit to the monkey house: a lot of watching and waiting, with the occasional mob of children. If you like zoos, by all means go; given that the camera simply watches the poky simian at length, however, don't plan on moseying to the next caged attraction when your interest wanes. The hour-plus-long study was originally intended as a 15-minute short film, and although the pace invites philosophical reflection---as when you notice the glass wall separating us from the star---you also realize how we've been spoiled by such dazzling nature series as Planet Earth. The wonder here is a far more quiet variety, a daydream with a little too much room for napping.