Montreal Film Journal


Following in the steps of Le Peuple Migrateur, the 2002 Oscar nominated docu- mentary depicting the long journeys birds take across the world as seasons turn, this new film follows emperor penguins as they swim, stomp and slide across the South Pole. Like Jacque Perrin's picture, Luc Jacquet's "La marche de l'empereur" is mostly driven by breathtaking visuals, but it's also quite thick with voice-over. Romane Bohringer, Charles Berling and Jules Sitruk provide the storybook-style narration, giving voice to Mommy Penguin, Daddy Penguin and Baby Penguin as they go through the cycle of life.

These short-winged birds spend most of their time in the ocean, where they're as happy as the fishes, but once a year they must get out of the water and walk far onto the ice banks. Only there can they mate, nestle their eggs and raise the hatched chicks until they're big enough to swim. The catch is that every so often, one of the parents has to take the long walk back to the ocean to get food while the others stay behind and get blasted by wind and snow.

Jacquet and his crew spent a whole year in Antarctica with the penguins capturing all the wonders of their existence: the way they burst out of the water like torpedoes, their hot nuptial dance, the endurance they show in the face of sub-zero temperatures, their nurturing nature, etc. There's occasional conflict between the penguins, like when the females bitchslap each other over the males or when a mother who lost her baby tries to steal one of the others, but in general these are peaceful creatures. They often have to rely on each other for survival, finding warmth only in group hugs.

Adding to the dreamy nature of the film is the original score by Émilie Simon, a young French artist who's kind of a more naive Björk. Her music, which mixes electro beats, classical strings and toy keyboards, is as cute as the little baby penguins. The film could have used more of it and less of the corny narration, but it should still amaze viewers of all ages.