winged migration (2003)


director: jacques perrin

The selling point of actor/producer/director Jacques Perrin’s Winged Migration is very simple: you will see things in this film that you have never seen before. With 1996’s Microcosmos, Perrin narrated as Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou took cameras in between blades of grass and into tiny underground burrows to reveal the rich life of insects in a French meadow. In his latest film, Perrin takes on the far more essentially majestic life of migratory birds, following them over the thousands of miles of their annual journeys across the globe.

With cameras mounted on gliders and balloons, on small remote-controlled planes and custom-built ultralights, we actually fly alongside flocks of geese, cranes, ducks, terns, pelicans and swans, over oceans and mountains, following the Seine through Paris and over the blighted wasteland of Eastern Europe’s factories. It’s a mark of the visual marvel of Perrin’s film that even these hellholes are suffused with a kind of magic, perhaps not the director’s intent.

Five years in the making, Perrin’s film is shot through with a benevolent environmental message, though the uncharitable might suggest that his working method - soaring, virtuoso camera work uninhibited by any apparent technical or physical limitations - lends his film a kind of Godlike perspective that suggests a regal distance from even the creatures we follow for almost an hour and a half.

Certainly, when the film lands on the distant beaches, fields and cliffs where the birds seem to spend much of their earthbound time, seemingly worlds apart from mankind, Perrin’s cameras take in their strange rituals and mating dances, and the spectacular strangeness of birds, with the fascinated awe you’d associate with alien first contact.

The sheer technical achievement of Perrin’s film somehow always remains in the background, though, and while it’s impossible to imagine a better place to see Winged Migration than on a theatre screen, the behind-the-scenes features will make the film a must-have DVD release.