Dir: Marie Amiguet, Vincent Munier | France, Doc, 89′
If you’re thinking this is going to be another children’s Christmas animation – think again. The Velvet Queen – or its more informative French title La panthere des neiges – sees two explorer/photographers heading to the snowy wastelands of Tibet in search of the elusive Snow Leopard.
A soulful love letter to nature The Velvet Queen focuses on ambience rather than facts in exploring an unexplored part of the world where animals still reign supreme in the echoing silence of the Tibetan plateau, one of the last sanctuaries of the wild where the rare and endangered leopard still roams despite poaching and environmental dangers.
Vincent Munier and Sylvain Tesson are clearly at one with each other pondering engagingly on the plight of the animals that venture past their long distance lenses in respectful coexistence, all camouflaged by magnificent furry winter coats that make them almost invisible to the naked eye against the sparse landscape known as ‘the roof of the World’.
Even when the feline eminence does make an appearance, towards the end of the film, a sinuous fluffy tail curling gingerly round a rocky outcrop, it cuts an unobtrusive figure prowling stealthily towards the body of a dead yak, then catching sight of the camera and warily withdrawing again into the hinterland. Bushy coated bears, mountain goats and a perky little bird with a black head and rust coloured body all wander by but are never identified, such is the impressionist style of this arthouse eco-doc: Oh David Attenborough where are you when we need a few names to faces? We do meet a local family with three young kids who are fiercely keen to learn and teach Tibetan to the French filmmakers who gladly join them later in their yurt for some welcome sustenance.
Director Marie Amiguet is best known for her documentary debut La Vallee des loups (2016) which goes on the trail of wolves in the French Alps, and she is also joined behind the camera by first time filmmaker Munier in this subtle but luminous look at a world fast disappearing. The film originally premiered in Cannes’ eco-conscious Cinema for the Climate strand and is now on general release at selected arthouse cinemas. MT
NOW ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM FRIDAY