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France 2005
Directed by
Luc Jacquet
80 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Andrew Lee
4 stars

March of the Penguins

Synopsis: The story of mating habits of Emperor Penguins, shot in Antarctica over the course of an entire breeding season.

Nature is beautiful, cruel, mysterious, and wonderful. These are the words that are suggested by this amazing story of the mating/nurturing rituals of the Emperor Penguins in Antarctica. They come, single file, to their breeding ground, far in the interior of Antarctica. The march is a thing of rare beauty and humour (when they tire of walking, they slide along on their bellies). It’s a hazardous journey however, which leaves numbers of them dead and lost in the cold. Why would a creature embark on what is potentially a suicide trip to procreate? Wasn’t there anywhere else that could be chosen to breed, closer to food and better sheltered from the storms and cold? The short answer is no, and the revelation at the end of the film of why this journey is performed each and every year is without doubt one of the most inspiring tales of parental sacrifice I’ve seen.

Beautifully shot in some of the most brutal conditions imaginable, the filmmakers need to be congratulated not only for their dedication and perseverance in the filming, but also for their resistance to gratuitously anthropomorphise the penguins in the edit. There are moments that seem like a stretch, but they avoid the usual narrative tricks of picking out a few penguins and telling the story through them. This is more a story of life itself, with all its attendant pains and joys. It feels like an older style of documentary, the camerawork isn't flashy, but steady and honest. We don't get penguincam or anything like that. Simple but well made, honest. And with Morgan Freeman providing the voiceover, suitable gravitas is lent to the proceedings.

For 80 minutes, the film does feel a little long. There are a couple of moments that feel like endings, but such reservations are quibbles as the film quickly sucks you back in again as you realise its telling you the story of the entire life cycle of these fascinating creatures. This is not a simple story of the penguins from their march inland to birth. There is so much more, and when the final moments come and the reason for this incredibly brutal ritual becomes clear, your view of nature may be transformed. A natural phenomenon that initially seemed suicidal, insane, evolutionarily retarded and if nothing else, cruel, becomes one of the most amazingly caring and loving things you can witness. At the risk of anthropomorphising, the sacrifices of the parents for the child are so amazing as to be truly inspirational.




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