Animals have enslaved humans and taken over the world. The statues of the past are gone and new ones are erected to suppress the will of the people.
A megalith rises from a sandy desert – or rather, a scale model of such a landscape. “I am the archive”, says a young female voice while ominous string music nails viewers to their seats. This opening sets the stage for the narrative and figurative language of Rithy Panh’s dense mnemonic essay which uses stunning dioramas to tell a twenty-first century dystopian story. After a century of genocidal ideologies and destructive speciesism, animals have enslaved humans and taken over the world. In a wave of hope, the statues of the past have been removed but new ones are being erected to suppress the will of the people. This is now a planet of apes, boars and lions, and a zoological revolution is reversing and recreating the atrocities of the 20th century. As animal figures watch the film archives of our world, it feels as if Lumière has been transported into a film by Méliès or Willis H. O’Brien. We are all well aware that history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as a farce. The time has now come for this farce, in which “political language inhabits our dreams and consumes us”, to allow the possibility of a “graceful and tender insubordination” to emerge.