Jacques Perrin's new film Océans deserves wide-screen viewing, and I now regret that I never saw his 2001 Peuple Migrateur (Winged Migration) in the cinema. For viewers requiring documentary purity, Roger Ebert's comment on Perrin's previous film still holds, this time for Océans:
[F]acts are not the purpose of "Winged Migration." It wants to allow us to look, simply look, at birds--and that goal it achieves magnificently. There are sights here I will not easily forget.
Substitute "sea animals" for "birds" and you have Océans. Those of us who might doze during an earnest TV nature documentary won't be able to get any shuteye during Perrin's film. The images are too spectacular, the soundtrack too stirring. Perrin's voice is heard only occasionally, so the sea's own sounds stand out all the more.
No ordinary film maker sets out to present us 100 minutes of footage - eye popping though it is - on the sea without having a keen environmental sensibility. Perrin certainly does, but he doesn't bludgeon the viewer with his message. In fact you spend a good half of the film marveling at his unique shots of animals - fish, of course, but also marine mammals, aquatic birds, sea-going reptiles, invertebrates... everything lives down there - while wondering "when our we going to see the pollution?"
If anything, Perrin's editing for a wide audience has pared his film down from what might have been a tedious TV documentary on the threats to the oceans and our overall environment. French TV's long running weekly "magazine of the sea" Thalassa invited Perrin for an entire evening a few weeks ago. He provided a "making of" Océans (30 minutes, in French) plus lots of other footage that we expected to see in the film, but which probably just would have blown their time limits.
But Perrin's footage of the "Pacific Trash Vortex" in Océans - a closeup that could have been filmed in a very dirty swimming pool - is an understatement. He knows that the Pacific's mid-ocean Texas-sized trash vortex is a death trap for millions of creatures, but even with the help of the European Space Agency (ESA), it's hard to capture that on film. Ecological hell is best seen seal-level, as a mammal navigates an offshore swamp of detritus, within sight of a petrochemical plant belching out its gas-flaring worst.
France seems to excel in producing film makers who make us care about our natural environment. Perrin was only making his debut as an actor (he's been in well over a hundred films and has produced or directed dozens more) when legendary undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau was attaining worldwide fame. In recent years, environmental activist and outdoorsman Nicolas Hulot has put Ushuaia on the map, and aerial photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand has used his lens to document our amazing Earth from Above.
"Facts are not the purpose," as Roger Ebert said, but an appreciation of our precious watery resource and its denizens - that is what is behind Perrin's Océans. The converted will see it - but how about those not in the choir?
(Poster - official site)