Monday, December 6, 2010

I'd Love To Turn You On: At the Movies #2 - Microcosmos

Microcosmos (1996, dir. Claude Nuridsany/Marie Pérennou)

Microcosmos is a very hard movie to really explain to people.  Well, you can explain what happens in it, but that's not the same as explaining it.  Like many films, Microcosmos features struggle, conflict, violence, death and an extended (and rather sloppy) sex scene.  Unlike most such films, this one is rated G.  And unlike most such films, nobody is acting.
Microcosmos took three years to create (between designing the cameras and filming all the footage). The filmmakers take you down into the grass, into the world of insects.  And then...they leave you there.  With nearly no voice-over and not much music, you're simply allowed to watch as insects go about their daily lives.  You spend a few seconds with some insects, and several minutes with others. The insects scavenge for food.  They eat.  They attempt to avoid getting eaten.  They search for mates. They procreate.  They sleep.  And a few of them die.  
As I said, this explains what happens in the movie, but it doesn't explain the movie itself.  As somebody once wisely proclaimed, "it's not what it's about - it's how it's about what it's about that matters".  And directors Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou really did something remarkable here.  This might have been just another (rather interesting) documentary, but it's not a documentary at all.  The filmmakers in fact took a bit of grief when this film was first released.  Apparently several of the scenes were "staged" - the settings were provided, the insects placed into them, and the cameras rolled.  But that just means that Microcosmos isn't a documentary in the traditional sense.  It might have been, if the camera had moved back more, if they had hired a stern-voiced British actor to explain what we were seeing at all times. But that's not how most movies work.  We rarely have any need for a narrator explaining what movie characters are doing, and why they're doing it - the movie trusts us to figure that out by watching the characters interact.  And this is what the directors have done - they bring us in close, and they simply let us watch what's going on.  Sometimes, it isn't exactly clear what we're seeing, or the insects' motivation for doing what they're doing.  But in a sense, that's part of the appeal.  What ARE those two ants doing?
...and who would have thought I would ever want to know the answer to such a question?
As you can well imagine, this isn't a typical film to watch.  I'm not sure it's something you'll want to invite the whole family or a bunch of friends over to experience.  But "experience" seems to be the right word.  I never felt like cheering or crying or laughing while watching this film.  But that might be because I was so wrapped up in it.
- Alf

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