GREENPOINT FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! There are two questions one should ask themselves to figure out if Bear-Like is right for them: 1) How much do you like bears? 2) Do your nature documentaries need a point to them? Roman Droux’s documentary follows David Bittner, who, for the past 15-years, has been spending his summers in the Alaskan wilderness, studying its bear population. And that is all there is to Bear-Like: one German man studying bears for a few months.
For those curious, no, this does not turn into some sort of Grizzly Man situation, providing the film with a sense of tragic loss and morphing into a mediation on man versus nature. If anything, Bear-Like seeks to document how the animals adapt to having humans around, while highlighting the similarities between the two species. And that is not a bad idea, as what we do to this planet directly affects all those we share it with. So, showing how we are the same (such as “doing something just for the fun of it”) could help viewers connect to the natural world and be more mindful of how they treat the Green Man’s kingdom.
What that does not provide, though, is a sense of momentum or forward plot developments. Bear-Like is dry, so unless you share Bittner’s adoration of Baloos, there is nothing present to keep you engaged or interested. Yes, some moments prove to be exciting, such as the “boss of the lagoon,” Bruno, proving to a younger male bear why he has that moniker via a fight in the lake. There is also a simple joy to be had in watching the mama bear, Berta, frolicking with Fluffy, her cub.
“…one German man studying bears for a few months.”
But, the documentary fails to rise above a slightly-better-than-average episode of a show on Animal Kingdom. Mother Nature is quietly observed, and Bittner and Droux only interact with the bears when necessary, typically to keep them away from their base camp or food. But, there are some positives present that prevent the movie from being a total wash.
The biggest is that Bear-Like is gorgeously filmed. The cinematography, often from hidden or handheld cameras Bittner operates, lovingly captures the beauty of the animals being studied and the awe-inspiring vastness of the surrounding terrain. The epic wide shots engulf the animals and humans, showing how isolated they all are, a million miles away from “civilization,” but this is where Bittner feels at home and rests easy every night. So, despite being boring and bland, the movie does have some fantastic visuals.
I am sure David Bittner is a swell guy, and his love for bears is well-established here. Despite excellent cinematography and a few scenes that work, Bear-Like does not have much to say. Did you know bears exist? Did you know Bittner loves bears? Neither of those questions is enough to hang a movie on, which means Bear-Like is only worth it for people like Bittner, who adore wildlife. General audiences, on the other hand, will be bored.
Bear-Like screened at the 2020 Greenpoint Film Festival.
"…could help viewers connect to the natural world and be more mindful of how they treat the Green Man’s kingdom."