Film Journal 2023: The Territory, Retrograde, Wildcat
Caught up with three recently released documentaries, one cited by some pundits as vying for a nomination at this year’s Oscars (The Territory, now steaming on Disney+), one an intimate and harrowing look at the moments before and after the announcement that American troops would be leaving Afghanistan (Retrograde, now streaming on Disney+), and the last film an emotional and honest examination of the human struggle with relationship and depression by way of this rescue project involving a baby ocelot (Wildcat, now streaming on Amazon Prime).
The Territory leaves little doubt about its ambitions, establishing its desire to connect the particularities of the genocide it’s depicting with a very real global concern. We meet the individuals who make up the remaining population of this decimated tribe residing deep in the colonized and razed rainforests of Brazil, giving the issue of deforestation a human face. The films rich visuals and the dynamic sound design and score help to immerse us in a part of the world bound to be foreign to many viewers, celebrating its beauty while inspiring genuine anger over the devastating affects of power and ignorance. A vital message that helps shed light on both a people and a global reality.
Retrograde, in contrast, stumbles a bit by allowing it’s true concern (the Afghan people) to get clouded by a one dimensional and narrow emphasis on American patriotism. And yet, even where it fails to shed light on the true complexities of the situation in Afghanistan, it still manages to pull together some genuinely harrowing footage and a great looking and engaging doc at that.
Wildcat is my favorite of the three. What elevates this deeply human story about the struggle with relationship and the realities of clinical depression is the way it uses the wildcat to frame this story within larger questions about the nature of life itself. There is a certain tension that exists between this endeavor to rescue and reabilitate “carnivores” back into the wild, and the way these human agents must appeal to something more than simply the laws of the nature when attending to the value of their lives. The film never finds a way to truly solve this tension, ultimately accepting blind sentiment without need for jusrification or rationalization. For me though this film functioned as a sort of meditation on one of life’s great contradictions. How do we perceive of such realities evident in nature, which hinges on survival of the fittest being necessary to life, coexisting with what is at its heart an act of compassion attempting to circumvent the rules of the jungle.
How do we justify such compassion for a wildcat. How do we justify such compassion for the human agents. What makes one life more valuable than another. What makes life itself valuable. These are the sorts of questions the film tables simply as a by-product of its raw but sentimental look at human and beast in proximity and in relationship. They are questions that might be easy to bypass with what ultimately is a very engaging and engrossing sentimental story, but they nevertheless linger for those willing, or perhaps compelled as I was, to dig beneath the surface.