Retrospective 2015

Koko, le gorille qui parle

Barbet Schroeder
FRA 1978
85 min

KOKO, LE GORILLE QUI PARLE is a slim, but intriguing documentary about a gorilla who can literally “talk.” Koko, a gorilla who was six years old at the time the film was made in 1977, had been taken from the San Francisco Zoo and was being taught how to communicate with American sign language by researchers from Stanford University. By the time Barbet Schroeder’s cameras captured Koko and her primary teacher, Penny Patterson, the great ape already knew several hundred words and had a surprisingly robust ability to convey thoughts, feelings, and desires. It becomes quickly evident that they have a relationship of profound depth, one that is characterized by affection and respect. The duty of playing the film’s heavy is left to poor Saul Kitchener, the director of the San Francisco Zoo. His argument, that perhaps Koko is being “made human” against her natural animal will, and teaching her sign language is just an exaggerated literalization of human-centered anthropomorphism, is worth considering, and it’s too bad the filmmakers couldn’t have found a more engaging proponent. (James Kendrick)

Supporting film: LAST LOST 

In the presence of Eve Heller.

  • Néstor Almendros
  • Lee Alexander
  • Dominique Auvray
  • Denise de Casabianca
  • Guta Cattoni
  • Maris Embiricos
Institut National de l’Audiovisuel (INA), Les Films du Losange
35 mm
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