"...imagery that is astonishing and enriching"

Exquisitely Beautiful Doc is Definitely for the Birds

(041803) Beautiful and revealing, the documentary Winged Migration begins by telling us that no special effects were used to photograph the birds of the movie. Well, of course, you think. It's a documentary. Why would anyone spend years following birds around the planet and use special effects? Aren't nature movies supposed to be natural, unencumbered by technological tricks? As you begin to lose yourself in the movie, you'll understand why you need to know that Winged Migration wasn't manufactured in a lab. Some of the images are so vivid, some of its vantage points so striking that you wonder how such sights could have been recorded by human eyes. Winged Migration, hardly a documentary in the ordinary sense, makes us feel as if we're flying with flocks of birds that travel enormous distances in the annual migrations on which their survival depends.

It may help situate this movie if you know that its director, Jacques Perrin, made Microcosmos, which exposed us to the world of insects. This time, Perrin interrupts his mysterious foray into bird life with title cards and tiny bits of narrative. In truth, the movie - a photographic marvel that took three years to film and involved 17 pilots and 14 cinematographers - could have used more narration. Perrin, whose voice can be heard on the soundtrack, leaves us wanting to know more. A small quibble.

Even so, the movie offers ample amounts of power, poetry and even humor. There's also an underlying edge of realism. Being a bird is no picnic. These soaring creatures face all manner of perils - fatigue during flights that can cover as may as 10,000 miles, death at the hands of hunters, lethal encounters with industrial waste and hardships caused by weather.
Perrin introduces us to a variety of birds: snow geese, bald eagles, black-headed ibises, European white storks and more, but the movie isn't trying to turn you into a highly informed bird watcher.

As was the case with Microcosmos, Perrin seems to want to expand consciousness, to show us that we're only dimly aware of all that transpires above us. He teaches us about great natural dramas that seldom (maybe never) cross our minds.

As the film unfolds, we become acutely aware of the flapping of wings, of the lonely solitude of birds crossing vast stretches of ocean, unable to stop for rest unless they happen upon a ship.
Migration never feels repetitive, it offers you the opportunity to immerse in a world beyond your own.

The day after I saw the movie, I was looking at birds differently - or maybe I was looking at them for the first time, marveling at their flight, fretting over the dangers they face, suddenly aware of their short, sometimes harrowing, amazingly determined lives. It is a rare thing when a film shows us imagery that is both astonishing and ultimately enriching. There are moments here that I will not soon forget. Winged Migration is on of the years best films.

Directed & Narrated by:    Jacques Perrin
Written by:    Jacques Perrin, Stephane Durand, Jean Dorst,
 Guy Jarry and Francis Roux.
Starring:    Razvan Lutac, Mirela Neag, Catalin Tolontan
Released:    04/05/03 (USA)
Length:    87 minutes
Rating:    Rated G for general audiences.

WINGED MIGRATION 2003 Sony Pictures Classics
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