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My Octopus Teacher

A South African man who suffers a mid-life crisis rediscovering himself through his relationship with an octopus in a bay near Cape Town in South Africa - now on Netflix

This Oscar-winning documentary film is produced, shot and narrated by Craig Foster. The story is told in a first-person confessional style interspersed with interviews carried out by the directors Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed. The film started as a love project by Craig with the directors, producer and Netflix coming onboard further down the line.

Craig’s explorations of the kelp underwater forests are very moving. His attachment to the octopus begins when there is very little else to inspire him in his terrestrial life. The octopus’s various adventures, from either hunting crabs or being hunted herself by a number of times by the sharks, to playing with fish and Craig himself, to her finally becoming a mother and dying are extraordinary.

The experience pays off as we witness Craig’s genuine care for the animal and start to understand his wonderment at the octopus various abilities and skill. As a natural part of the animal’s life span, she dies as she is preparing to lay hundreds of the eggs. Craig finds solace in his relationship with the animal, and the viewer will relate to his uncovering of the beauty and complexity of the natural world.

Craig reflects about how his relationship with the octopus and the kelp forests has changed his relationship with people, in the film’s most crucial part. That is genuinely moving and feels authentic. However, the film at times can feel self indulgent. When the animal dies, the directors felt the urge to offer some kind of a happy ending, and that was unnecessary.

The images are beautiful, despite the limited resources. Craig often films using his own equipment and without the deep-water diving gear. On the other hand, the viewer can be excused for feeling a little irritated when the best material is missed out on because the cameraperson has to get out of the water to breathe. Technically, there are quite a few shortcomings. The quality is not on a par with a BBC nature documentary.

This gentle film possesses moments of real beauty and emotion. It has touches of slow cinema, and ultimately feels like an underwater home movie. Its charms override the technical limitations.

My Octopus Teacher is out now on Netflix.

By Agnieszka Piotrowska - 03-05-2021

Agnieszka Piotrowska is a British (Polish born) award winning filmmaker, author and theorist. She is particularly well known for her iconic documentary Married to the Eiffel Tower (2008) about women...

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