Review: Lynx Man
by Ola Salwa
- Like a Finnish rendition of “Old MacDonald Had a Farm”, with a recluse and a wild animal instead of livestock, Juha Suonpää’s film both melts hearts and breaks them, too
Joseph is sleek and handsome, and knows his way around these freezing woods somewhere in Finland. He leads a solitary life; occasionally, he tries to lure in some female company, and when he sees a camera pointing towards him, he pretends not to see it but is nonetheless aware of its presence. Joseph is the feline half of the protagonists of Lynx Man [+see also:
interview: Juha Suonpää
film profile], directed by Juha Suonpää, and is followed around by the curious and investigative eye of a human called Hannu. The documentary, which has just snagged a Special Mention in the Nordic:Dox Award competition at CPH:DOX (see the news), shows through different lenses – quite literally, since many different types of images are stitched together – how Hannu is dedicated to befriending lynxes and observing other species.
At times, it’s intentionally unclear who the main protagonist is – is it a man or an animal? A voyeur or his unbloodied prey? Hannu explains lynxes’ behaviour in a very knowing way, but sometimes he veers off into more fairy tale-like territory, discussing the personalities of the animals or the impression they make. He calls one of them Grumpy Girl and says it looks like “a matron about to wield her rolling pin”. His dedication makes it somehow plausible that the animals could start talking back, as if it were a Disney film.
Lynx Man is funny and cute, but also ominous through its choice of music and editing, and sometimes a bit odd, too, as the audience is allowed to come a little too close to Hannu’s most intimate thoughts (not to mention the private lives of the lynxes, cranes and hares) and rituals – like wearing lynx masks, which nudges the film into rather surreal territory, and makes it simultaneously alluring and cringeworthy. Hannu is laid bare in front of the camera, sometimes literally, as his other hobby is attending the sauna. Suonpää’s film is, in this sense, a good study of how close a documentary can get to its protagonist and how that proximity impacts upon the audience. Much has been said about the ethics of the genre, as well as the privacy of the protagonists, but this particular element referred to above hasn’t been covered very thoroughly yet.
Although Lynx Man leaves room for thoughts and feelings while the cameras peer through the woods or stay deadly still with the night-vision mode turned on, the Finnish documentary is not an entirely peaceful experience. Hannu is also trying to protect lynxes from the world’s most dangerous threat – humans, the only species that kills for pleasure. There are some very sad and heart-rending images and stories included in the film, which broaden the emotional palette of Lynx Man. “Old man Hannu had a…”
Lynx Man was produced by Finland’s Wacky Tie Films. The international rights are up for grabs.
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