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Art-house films: ‘Monogamy,’ ‘Nenette’

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Opening this week on the specialty film circuit:

‘Nenette’ and ‘Night Falls on the Menagerie’ ★★★1/2

French filmmaker Nicolas Philibert went to the zoo in Paris and brought back two films and a metaphor. Philibert, who observed kids in a country schoolhouse in “To Be and To Have” (2002), appeals to the philosopher of animals who lurks in every zoo visitor.

The program opens with “Night Falls on the Menagerie,” an allusive 10-minute visual document and soundscape of the Jardin des Plantes, the Paris botanical garden and zoo. In the quiet after their keepers go home, animals are seen reacting to the cries of other zoo denizens. In a stellar finale after twilight, Philibert expands the vista. Outside the zoo walls, a cacophany unites the wild sounds with a nightscape of sirens.

“Nenette” is Philibert’s 67-minute portrait of an aging orangutan born in Borneo and fated to die in France. Her three mates predeceased her. In her company now are one of her sons, Tubo, and Theodora and Tamu, a mother and daughter born in Britain. Every year, some 600,000 homo sapiens look through the glass at them.

None of the visitors are visible, except for a few faces reflected in the glass. What they say, though, fascinates Philibert, who overhears tourists. He also invites a psychoanalyst, a comic and a gypsy singing duo to Nenette’s front window. Demonstrators from the Democracy and Liberty Collective pass in the distance. We can hear their chanting against the 1,226 video surveillance cameras installed by the police.

“Nenette” opens with the title character slowly opening an eye in an extreme closeup. After a lifetime of watching us, her return gaze can be read as either fatal boredom or unnerving wisdom. Philibert’s sojourn rewards him with what he calls “a metaphor for the cinema.”

No MPAA rating. Total running time: 77 minutes. In French, Italian, Chinese, Flemish and English, with English subtitles. Screening at 3 p.m. Sunday and 6:15 p.m. Wednesday as part of the Eurpean Union Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

‘Monogamy’ ★★1/2

Their wedding is three months away, but Theo (Chris Messina) and Nat (Rashida Jones) have more to do than choose fonts for their invitations in “Monogamy.” Is the state of happily ever after in the cards for this trendy Brooklyn couple? Director Dana Adam Shapiro, co-director of the documentary “Murderball,” and his co-writer Evan M. Wiener look at a shaky relationship in their 2009 drama.

Never in the mood for sex, Nat (Rashida Jones) manages to spill figurative cold water on the impulses of her fiance, Theo, a part-time wedding photographer. Each incompatible couple he frames — “let’s see some non-posing”— offers him reason to doubt his own impending vows. Theo also takes commissions to portray clients in their everyday environments. He advertises this private detective-style service as “Gumshoot” and uses a telephoto lens so his clients do not notice him shooting from a distance. Rather too neatly, this sideline symbolizes his own intimacy issues.

Nate fixates on an anon­ymous blond client, who e-­mails him various times and locations where she performs sex acts in semi-public settings for his camera. To figure out what’s going on, he starts playing gumshoe for real. Her secret underscores the film’s title for a pat climax. “Monogamy” makes a slight comment on exhibitionism, voyeurism and erotic fidelity. As a screen couple, Theo and Nat click erratically, and that lessens the appeal of this attractively shot and scored debut drama.

No MPAA rating. Running time: 96 minutes. Opening today at Facets Cinematheque.

‘Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance’ ★★

Marketed as a mecha-anime with “brutal action and primal emotion,” the second installment of the Evangelion tetralogy alternates between stand-alone mega-battles and a storyline about teen angst.

“Evangelion 2.0: You Can (Not) Advance” features four young pilots of huge humanoid robots. These cyborgs defend Neo-Tokyo from killer “Angels” sent from “Heaven.” Other Christian references carry over from the series’ 2007 episode, Vatican treaties, Dead Sea scrolls and lifeless red seas created by an apocalypse called the Second Impact.

Director Masayuki draws from a 1995 TV series titled “Neon Genesis Evangelion.” While its fans will already be up to speed, newcomers to this anime universe will be left behind. There’s talk of inventing a “real” god as people of Earth await the return of an unspecified savior.

When the soundtrack does not pound with computer-game cacophony, there is a weird array of elevator-style music. Clunky lines include: “Encroachment of a core-like substance confirmed near the entry plug area.” By contrast, the mind-blowing look of the attacking angels indicates an intelligent designer far beyond the talent on board here.

No MPAA rating. Running time: 109 minutes. In Japanese, with English subtitles. Screening at midnight tonight and midnight Saturday at the Music Box, where five live-action films, plus shorts and trailers, will be shown Saturday as part of the Fifth Annual Sci-Fi Spectacular.

Bill Stamets is a free-lance writer.

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