Dir: Luc Jacquet. Fr.2004. 84mins.
Although Cole Porterdidn't specifically mention them by name, penguins do it too, and Luc Jacquet'slyrical documentary continues the successful trend of wildlife and nature filmsthat have revitalised a genre long relegated to unimaginative, formatted TVfare.
Though less wondrous andexhilaratingly spectacular than previous French productions such as Microcosmosor Winged Migration, The Emperor's March provides a captivatingpeek at the mating cycle of the Antarctica's majestic Emperor penguin.
A labour of love forornithologist-turned-documentary filmmaker Jacquet, who spent a year on thepolar ice of Adelie Land to film his subjects from every possible angle, thefilm does full justice to his passion, patience and commitment.
In France the film has sofar performed well, drawing in its target family audiences. Overseas, WarnerIndependent Pictures and National Geographic Feature Films teamed up atSundance - where the film enjoyed a Special Screening - to take US and UKrights for $1m. While a new dub track would seem an obvious move for anydistributor handling a foreign-language nature documentary, The Emperor'sJourney needs it more than most. Audiences overseas will find that thecurrent voiceover style - regardless of tongue - jars too much, distractingfrom the onscreen visuals.
The largest of 17 species,the Emperor penguin is the only bird that spends winters on Antarctica's openice and breeds during this time, huddling together in huge rookeries asprotection from the icy cold, winds and blizzards.
After courtship, the femaleEmperor penguin lays a single egg, then marches off in the direction of theopen sea to feed, while the male remains behind to incubate the egg bypositioning it on the top of his feet and covering it with his abdominal flesh.Months later, the female returns to feed and raise the newly-hatched chick andprepare them to return to the sea.
From its opening images ofpenguins shooting out of the water and onto the ice as they prepare for theirannual reproductive migration, Jacquet's film captures the penguin in all itswaddling grace and regal endurance.
Among the film's store ofeye-popping imagery are the long shots of a seemingly endless line of penguinssnaking across a sub-polar counterpart to John Ford's Monument Valley in awildlife retread of the opening scenes of Chaplin's The Gold Rush.
The film's only contentiouselements are its narration and soundtrack. Actors Romane Bohringer and CharlesBerling provide a running commentary into the birds' thoughts that is toolyrical and hints that less would have been more. When 14-year-old Jules Sitrukbelatedly chimes in as baby Emperor the film finally crosses the line intoDisneyish cuteness.
Rising young electronicmusic composer-singer Emilie Simon (billed by some as France's answer to Bjork)provides a soundtrack score with songs that to some ears may prove anodyne.
Prod co: Bonne Pioche
Int'l sales: Wild Bunch
Fr dist: BVI
Exec prod: Yves Darondeau,Christophe Lioud, Emmanuel Priou
Scr: Luc Jacquet, Michel Fessler
Cine: Laurent Chalet, JeromeMaison
Ed: Sabine Emiliani
Music: Emilie Simon
Vocie cast: Romane Bohringer,Charles Berling, Jules Sitruk