. (Le peuple migrateur
, Travelling Birds
). Dir. Jacques Perrin, et al.
Not all birds travel as far as the Arctic Tern, winging from Pole to Pole; or stay at sea as long as the albatross; but even flightless species such as the Rockhopper Penguin (travelling 600 miles on South Atlantic currents), or solitary birds such as the Bald Eagle, migrate.
But - even if you've never had any
interest whatsoever in ornithology - see this film, and see it on the big screen. It's visual poetry. The work of fourteen cinematographers and seventeen pilots, spanning every continent, and taking over three years to make (not to mention the "cast of thousands!"), this film is well worth watching (and re-watching) for the aerial and landscape cinematography alone.
Some favourite scenes and images:
* The opening shot. A winter scene, along the Eure(?): falling snow dusts the river, an old shelter in the foreground, church steeple and village in the background. The scene fades into spring. Simple and quiet beauty.
* A brief glimpse of the Great Wall of China from the air: sinuous, ancient and impressive, rising out of a misty landscape. One glimpse also of Mont St. Michel, a quiet island standing in blue-grey waters.
* Sandhill Cranes in an African oasis. Wave upon wave of dunes gives way to the calm of a river; rushes and palm trees golden on its shores. In the evening, open fires flicker in the distance.
* In the Arctic, glaciers calve and crash. High in the Himalayas, a warning rumble precedes the tumble of a avalanche.
* Somewhere in the American Southwest, birds exuberantly swoop into a river canyon, followed by the equally joyful camera. Elsewhere, the camera looks down on a flock as it glides above a still lake, the textures of its banks perfectly reflected and detailed in the water.
* Contrasts in colours: a flock of geese, in V-formation, above intensely yellow and green fields in France. Later, an echoing shot of a another flock, this time in W-formation, stark white against the rusts, russets, and brilliant reds of autumn in the northeastern U.S. Flying to the Arctic, we pass a white landscape streaked with browns, blues and greys - a shading of crevasses and subtle colours. In the Amazon, the vibrant reds, yellows, and blues of tropical parrots seem supremely fitted to its lush domain. A flock of cranes in Africa, silhouetted against a blood-red sunset. Storks, formal in black-and-white, dance on a snowy plain.
* Whooper Swans, migrating from the Far East to the Siberian Tundra, traverse a timeless landscape of verdant rice-paddies and bullock-driven carts. Across the globe, in an equally timeless image, a babushka
, scarf over her head and bucket in hand, comes out from her stone farmhouse to hand-feed storks who make a brief annual stop on her property.
* The camera swoops with a flock of geese along the Seine, under bridges, past the replica of the Statue of Liberty at Pont de Grenelle, the Eiffel Tower in the background. Later in the film, another flock silently passes the towers of the World Trade Center and the original Statue of Liberty on Staten Island, donated to the U.S. by the people of France.
And there are moments of high comedy too. Even resisting the temptation to anthropomorphize, you'll have to laugh at some of the birds' antics: the seabird trying to swallow a fish patently (almost) too large for its gullet; the Amazonian parrot that must have seen too many screenings of Chicken Run
(delightful, even if obviously rehearsed).
As for the "aaaww" factor? Springtime, and new life: Cygnets, goslings, owlets, and ducklings - as well as baby storks, penguins, and numerous other species. All disarmingly cute. As my friend Tom said, it gives a new meaning to the term "chick flick".
Two minor caveats: The music, by Bruno Coulais, may be a tad intrusive for some. I loved it - loved the range in styles and mood. But some viewers may occasionally find it too much of a good thing.
Also: although no special effects were used in filming the birds' flight, there was some staging of scenes, either through use of editorial licence to create a dramatic "narrative", or through the filmmakers' intervention. Some flocks were imprinted on the filmmaker/ornithologists, thereby enabling the latter to fly ultralight planes alongside the birds. Given the results, I'll happily accept this minor tweaking of documentary parameters. Even if one knows, that - for example - the film-makers and flocks didn't just happen
upon an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean; or that both birds and camera were safely out of avalanche-range in the Himalayan scene, it doesn't (for me) detract from the incredible quality of the film, and the extent of the filmmakers' dedication and skill.
Thankfully, there is almost no narration. Very brief (and in my opinion entirely adequate) captions name the species and their migratory paths. This is not
an "educational documentary" in the style of National Geographic (worthy as those may be).
It's a celebration of film, flight, and our natural world. Its prosaic title, lacklustre publicity posters, and unprepossessing subject ("A documentary? All about migrating birds
?") don't give any hint of just how magnificent this film is. Anyone interested in film or photography - or, of course, birds - will find it an intoxicating and joyful experience, seeing Earth's beauty through the soaring, exultant lens of Winged Migration