Monday, June 20, 2011

Microcosmos: Le peuple de l'herbe

I'm a nerd, and I love documentaries. There -- I've said it.

Last week, the boys and I watched one called Microcosmos: Le peuple de l'herbe (1996). For us English speakers, that translates to Microcosmos: the grass people. Basically, it follows insects in a field in France. Doesn't sound like much of a premise, but it is without a doubt one of the most spectacular films I've ever seen.

The film's opening sequence treats the viewer like some sort of extraterrestrial. Beginning in the clouds, it allows us to descend to the treetops, down to the earth. Finally, we rest on the soil so that we can view the earth from the insects' perspective. Blades of grass appear like towering forests. Raindrops are like hailstones. The earth, from this vantage point, looks completely alien and new.

Narration is practically non-existent in this film, but it's unnecessary. The images have a drama and poetry all their own, sucking one into various vignettes of insect life. Ants vigilantly guard their herd of aphids, staving off the attacks of ravenous ladybugs. A dung beetle struggles with his monumental load. Caterpillars queue up like a cars in freight train to some unknown destination. A spider captures air bubbles to build his silvery underwater retreat. Snails frill and sway in a tender, passionate embrace.  A Godzilla-like pheasant looms over an ant colony, wreaking havoc and destruction among its inhabitants.

The close-ups, slow-motion, and time-lapse photography in this film are phenomenal. Everything from the fuzz on a caterpillar to the inverted reflection in a droplet of water is rendered in exquisite detail.

My boys enjoyed this documentary so much that they actually wanted to replay it as soon as it was over. As for myself, this film has given me a new appreciation for the insect world. Although I still have no qualms about smacking mosquitoes or squashing ticks, I have found myself rescuing spiders out of the bathtub and helping them gently out the door.


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