Film Review: The Velvet Queen
THE SNOW LEOPARD is one of the most elusive creatures on the face of the earth, so naturally a documentary about attempts to photograph one in the wild will, by necessity, wind up being a movie about a lot of other things as well. Marie Amiguet and Vincent Munier’s film follows the efforts of Munier and writer Sylvain Tesson to track down this rare, beautiful creature in the mountains of Tibet. Tesson has also written a book about the experience, called The Art of Patience, and that title could describe this movie as well: It’s not just about patience, but about how patience itself is an art.
This is the kind of film that can have a physical effect on you: You sense your heartbeat slowing, your mind clearing away, your eyes becoming more focused.
Amiguet and Munier give us long, gorgeous passages of stillness, where we might watch a landscape or a solitary creature in that landscape. So many nature documentaries cut rapidly from one creature to another, creating little mini-narratives among the animals. The Velvet Queen goes in the opposite direction: It slows everything down, both to give us a better sense of what pursuing the snow leopard requires and to teach us to better appreciate the world around us. And the images presented are so strikingly beautiful, and so unlike the kinds of images we’re used to from other such movies, that it’s hard not to feel your breath being taken away. (The score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis helps, too.)
Munier and Tesson aren’t just explorers, however. They are philosophers, too, of a sort. As a result, there’s a lot of voiceover in this film that dwells on our place in the universe and about the natural world. This too is far from the kind of narration one finds in other films of this genre: There’s no dry recounting of what happened, nor is there breathless sensationalization of it. Some viewers may not be entirely on board with the heady (and oh-so French) rumination. But get on this movie’s wavelength and its spell will last long after the end credits have rolled.