“I think Leonora throughout her life identified more with animal spirits than human and the humans that she liked the most were a bit feral and unleashed and free from social expectations.” The title and theme of Female Human Animal is inspired by this philosophy of painter and writer, Leonora Carrington. Female Human Animal is completely feral, completely free from social and artistic expectations – it is a beast of its own creation and direction.
This docufiction follows acclaimed novelist, Chloe Aridjis, as she co-curates a retrospective Tate exhibition presenting the surreal artistic work of her friend Leonora Carrington. Aridjis is a restrained character who is dissatisfied with her world, saying, “modern art, modern love – it all seems a bit soulless to me”. She craves excitement, inspiration, passion and she soon finds this in the form of a mysterious man who materialises into Aridjis’ life like a strange otherworldly spirit. With his unconventional behaviour peaking her interest, she soon finds herself slipping into a strange and dangerous world of obsession.
Carrington’s paintings haunt Aridjis’ storyline, influencing her internal and external state. The paintings that currently persuade her fate are brought to the audience’s attention with impact as they flash up on the screen accompanied with a deafening crash of brass. Scenes of her life directly mirror some (such as Carrington’s Self-Portrait, which now serves as a portrait of Aridjis) whereas some simple take inspiration from them, with characters adopting characteristics of Carrington’s work (with the mysterious man and his odd tendency for bird noise perhaps indicating Carrington’s piece Quería ser pájaro).
While explaining Carrington’s thought process, Aridjis says, “She didn’t accept the world she was given as a woman. She didn’t accept the world as it superficially appeared”, which encapsulates the theme and direction of this film completely. Just like Carrington’s work, Female Human Animal pushes reality into surrealism to a degree where it’s difficult to keep track of what is truly happening. The uncertainty concocted through this method forges an unsettling feeling for the audience and gives us a visceral insight to Aridjis’ internal world.
Director, Josh Appignanesi, films this piece on an 80’s video camera, which creates a retrospective appearance to the film and once again subverts audience expectation. Shots are often unnerving close-ups or purposely linger on the outside of the usual perspective, demanding its own viewpoint that differs from the conventional. Female Human Animal doesn’t shy away from being strange or visually unappetising and in a world of billion dollar highly polished franchise blockbusters, you have to respect it for that.
In this wildly unreal visual piece, perhaps the most unrealistic component is the behaviour of our main character. Aridjis voluntarily pursues a love interest despite it being strongly hinted that he is a violent criminal. Of course, it seems absurd to try applying sense to a story where a man occasionally speaks like a bird and a father can seemingly predict the weather to the very second, however, this decision from our main character – someone who has presented themselves as very intelligent – still felt a little jarring. Perhaps this was a commentary on the current #MeToo movement and how unintelligible it is that people still choose to support certain artists, celebrities and friends despite them collecting numerous sexual misconduct allegations.
Whether or not this film is actually “good” will have to be up to the individual viewer (which I guess makes my job here pretty redundant). Art is subjective and this film takes that concept to the extreme. Just as the art form this film takes inspiration from, this surreal film will certainly not be to everyone’s taste but for those who enjoy the creepily absurd, it’s an experience worth seeking out. Even if this film doesn’t deliver exactly what you want, at least we’re treated to the wise words of Leonora Carrington: “Love in a romantic way is really silly. You have to own your soul as far as it’s possible to own a soul, or let your soul own you. To hand it over to some half-assed male? I wouldn’t recommend it.”
by Michaela Barton
Michaela is a freelance journalist living in Glasgow who watches far too much Netflix so might as well make a career out of it. Her one true love is procrastination but she’s also a fan of feminist and queer theory, ugly dad shirts, and abducting cats.