(Claude Nuridsany & Marie Pérennou, France, 2004)


The strange genre of films that veer between nature documentary and solemn, Koyaanisqatsi-style essay-collage have become easy to mock. Genesis, from the Microcosmos (1996) team of Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou, is among the better movies of this kind. As an exercise in making us awestruck before spectacular images of animals and elements, it is certainly a cut above such ponderous releases as Deep Blue (2004).

The filmmakers spin more of their customary photographic magic as they observe the habits of frog, jellyfish, iguana, spider and many other creatures. This time, the imagery is wrapped in a fable of evolution. A personable narrator in the form of an African griot (Sotigui Kouyaté) guides us through the stages of life, with an emphasis on seduction, love, war and the inevitable disintegration of all ordered forms into swirling patterns of disorder.

The film boasts an elegant and mercifully concise construction, including some welcome moments of humour. Bruno Coulais’s musical score introduces a pleasingly multicultural air into an otherwise history-free reverie. The unsung creative hero behind the scenes is undoubtedly the sound designer, Laurent Quaglio, who builds up an entire, rich world of supposedly ambient noises to accompany what most likely came to him as silent footage.

During the most cloyingly cute moments of Genesis, it does well to remind oneself how many true artists of cinema have been drawn to such a project. Terrence Malick began and abandoned a film about the creation of the world in the early 1980s. Robert Bresson spent years planning a final work, also called Genesis, that would feature only animals. A few years ago in Australia, a package of shorts from France showcased the remarkable career of Jean Painlevé, whose surrealist sensibility enlivened even the most routine nature documentary about seahorses or vampire bats.

It is another Painlevé we sorely need today, to take the entire what-a-beautiful-world genre away from the smothering embrace of the New Age sensibility and into more eccentric, personal realms.

© Adrian Martin August 2005

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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