Nature’s Mysteries Abound in This Enigmatic French Spectacle



What an astonishingly cool movie this is. That much is certain. But, is it a documentary? A “nature film”? Some kind of other experimental work? When the filmmakers, Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou, submitted Microcosmos to the Cannes Film Festival, they were told that it’s unclassifiable. Years later, the film is remembered extremely fondly on a global scale, a treasured experience and quick recommendation.

Two quick decades ago, a French directorial duo gave the world this work, Microcosmos, a brief but immersive foray into pure mystery and wonder. With its cast of real bugs and tiny wildlife, but cinematically enhanced with a completely fabricated audio track, it fully embraces the fanciful side of filmmaking. It’s U.S. poster claims it’s, “Jurassic Park in your own back yard!” That‘s a dumb tagline – almost as dumb as it’s pervasive image of the mantis in sunglasses – but the point is in there somewhere: Microcosmos puts us in another world of screen-filling beasts, something we know, yet don’t. With the knowledge that we’re seeing what goes on in the grass right outside (in this case, the grass in Aveyron, France), there’s an element of thrill.

Kino Classics’ new Blu-Ray of Microcosmos takes us deep into the weeds in the best of ways.

We all know nature. We might even know a thing or two about nature. Most of us have seen nature films, taking us up close to the insect-sized action. Microcosmos is something different. Even in the twenty-plus years since its acclaimed theatrical debut (Microcosmos played in art house cinemas in the U.S.), as its then-revolutionary macro camera technology has become plenty widespread, the film itself remains a unique marvel. Another tagline was simply “Life. Death. War. Birth.” Yes. That tells us everything yet nothing in the vastest of ways. But, it’s not wrong… In some ways, there’s nothing that can be told.

The critters, crawlies and mollusks that come and go, momentarily occupying center screen, take part in their own little tales, but are never anthropomorphized. Our own human identification with what they might be trying to do is our limit. The “why” of whatever they’re doing (determinately pushing a mud ball from one place to another, or blasting their wings without flying, or simply moving along to who-knows-where) is something we never know. How could we? This is the natural world just beneath our feet; ignored, mowed, weeded, and sometimes paved over. Microcosmos is interested in none of that. Here, mankind’s relationship with the subjects of this beguiling film is a purely subjective affair. We get what we get from it, thanks in large part to whatever we bring to it.

A caterpillar. Then two caterpillars. No; make that fifty or so caterpillars. All crawling in a line, across the rough terrain. Where are they going? What are they doing? Why are they traveling this way? We’ll never really know. But, that’s okay. Who can know (or should know!) the mind of a caterpillar?

Narration is minimal, a sentence or two at the beginning and end, and even then, of a purely storybook quality. Kristin Scott Thomas provides the narration, such as it is, for this slightly trimmed Weinstein cut of the film. The French version of the narration, by actor Jacques Perrin, is also available on a separate audio track.

Although the film is assembled to present a twenty-four hour day, the actual timetable of the film’s production is something quite different. “15 years of research. 2 years of equipment design. 3 years of shooting.” One would imagine that the production outlasted the lifespan of its stars.

When it comes down to it, the great takeaway might just be that while we may be be to build new cameras and technology that reveal new aspects of our world, understanding these creatures amid their profound “otherness” is a different matter.

While it’s true that every movie should be given the high definition treatment, this is one that truly benefits from it across the board. That’s not because of its close, at-a-glance aesthetic proximity to educational National Geographic or IMAX nature films. No, the sensation of Microcosmos is one of pure cinema; French to the core in it’s prioritizing of unknowable wonder, whimsy and occasional brutal truth.

Although rated for all audiences, parents of young children should be prepared to discuss the snail mating and animal-on-animal death. The Blu-Ray includes two older, lengthy making-of videos, both in French with English subtitles. One is an extended interview with its directors, the other is a series of interviews with other above-the-line staff and creators.

Kino Classics’ new Blu-Ray of Microcosmos takes us deep into the weeds in the best of ways.


The images in this review are not representative of the actual Blu-ray’s image quality, and are included only to represent the film itself.