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Culture Reviews
Birds II
35 mm 
Directed by: Luc Jacquet. Written by: Michel Fessler, Luc Jacquet. Starring: a colony of emperor penguins. 85 min. France.

By Sam Gerrans

Review top sheet: this is a shortish documentary, and this review is tailored to suit.

The film features a colony of emperor penguin in their native Antarctic as they battle with the elements to reach their breeding ground and reproduce.

The narration is positioned somewhere between a documentary and a free male-female interpretation of the subjects’ inner dialogue. Some of it works and some of it, frankly, is a little silly. But the footage is engrossing and speaks for itself.

The film is in French with Russian subtitles. If you don’t know either language, get someone who does to whisper the key developments to you at strategically important moments and you’ll have no problem following the plot.

Comments: emperor penguins freezing to death in a barren wasteland.

Now, if that doesn’t imply a wide scope for drama to you, I understand. But, as I discovered, the sorrow, joy and even romance of a penguin’s life leaves “The Waltons” looking like a houseful of pedantic accountants conducting an inventory.

The film paints a portrait of refined, dignified creatures blessed with impressive social cohesion and an eerily human capacity for incongruous – almost contradictory – sets of characteristics: at once clumsy yet graceful, waddling yet streamlined, pedestrian yet exquisite, stoical yet affectionate.

Penguins demonstrate a heroic, uncomplaining persistence in the face of a climate that makes Moscow in February look like the Algarve in June. And if you’ve done a few Moscow winters, you’re going to respect that one.

When you see what penguins go through to reproduce, you’ll realise that hanging around in a Circle Line station with a bunch of daffodils for a date who is now so late the flowers have begun to wilt is, by compassion, no big shakes.

See the film and learn why penguins rock.

Sam Gerrans is a freelance writer and translator:

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