MY OCTOPUS TEACHER
The winner of the Best Documentary Feature Oscar at the 93rd Academy Awards, My Octopus Teacher is a Netflix Original documentary about South African filmmaker Craig Foster and his many encounters with an octopus over the course of a year.
10 years in the making, the film follows Foster as he finds an octopus and decides to go see it every single day in order to get a better sense of what makes the animal tick. Initially, it is a challenge for him to develop a real trust with the young octopus but he soon manages to befriend it enough that it never runs away from him. During this year-long journey, Foster finds himself not only impressed by the octopus' intelligence and resilience but developing a genuine affection for the sea creature.
Some of the most intense moments come during the octopus' cat-and-mouse games with the pyjama sharks roaming the same waters as Foster struggles with his inability to help since it would disrupt nature. There are also more light-hearted sequences where you see him bond with the animal. By the end of all this, the filmmaker talks about his newfound respect for all living creatures and how the octopus' adventures made him look at his own life, his relationship with his son, in a new light.
It's easy to see how much effort went into this project: the sheer persistence of tracking a single animal for hundreds of days, capturing good footage daily, is impressive. The filmmaker is visibly passionate about his story throughout so his telling of what he witnessed has real weight to it which fuels the film's emotional punch in its final act. The footage of the octopus itself is, quite simply, gorgeous and single-handedly makes the film worth seeing. You definitely understand why someone would get attached to such an interesting animal. It just makes you want to grab your snorkel and run to the nearest reef to explore.
Unfortunately, there's really not much more to this movie than nice images. Foster is a good storyteller but his constant anthropomorphizing of the octopus gets tiresome quick and feels unnecessarily manipulative from a dramatic standpoint. This gives the film an over-sentimental March Of The Penguins vibe that it probably didn't need, clashing with the scientific approach at the film's heart, which gets left behind by the end.
My Octopus Teacher is a beautifully shot film and its narrative works very well, you do feel something for the adorable octopus come the last act, but one can't help but feel that this film could have been so much more. It is certainly worth watching and deserving of praise, especially for that fantastic footage, but this remains a bit of a lightweight documentary, though a charming one.