The March of the Penguins is one of France’s biggest box office hits of all time – surprisingly enough, considering it’s a documentary. Director Luc Jacquet spent 13 months in Antarctica shooting the movie. The film contains stunning imagery of Antarctica and its main inhabitants, the emperor penguins. Once a year, thousands of penguins march for miles in a polite, straight line that humans could be proud of, before coming together in a huge group that looks like an outdoor Robbie Williams concert, where they mate.
Jacquet is obviously amused by and respectful of his subject, and the movie can be interpreted as an ode to the penguins themselves. The penguins derived laughter from the audience with their clumsy movements, but also awe with their beautiful mating dance. In a Q&A session after the movie, director Jacquet claimed that penguins are the easiest wild animals to film, because they’re unused to humans, and therefore unafraid of them.
“One of them even tried to mate with us, maybe because we’re French, I don’t know,” Jacquet explained.
When asked what the biggest problem about making the movie had been, Jacquet said it’d been finding money: “When I told my producers that I wanted to make a film about penguins walking, they weren’t too excited.”
But beyond the funny walk, the movie’s main focus is on the penguins’ fight to keep their young alive: “Baby penguins only have a 10-40% survival rate because of the difficult weather conditions,” Jacquet told the audience.
The March of the Penguins created a striking contrast with Belgian movie L’Enfant (The Child). Winning brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne their second Palme d’Or at Cannes earlier this year, L’Enfant tells the story of a young couple who has a baby. The father, played by Jérémie Renier, is a petty thief who is ill-prepared for fatherhood, and, as a result, sells the child without the mother’s consent.
In comparison to the life-or-death parenting of the penguins, L’Enfant underlined the fact that some people just shouldn’t have kids. As the movie progresses, Renier’s character grows intensely dislikeable and yet sympathetic in his desperate acts to make up for the damage he’s done. The film is completely without soundtrack and is at no point in time even mildly amusing. In spite of its outstanding acting and rave reviews, I can’t say I liked the movie much. However, the movie’s final scene, an impressive one-shot scene, was excellently executed and created a memorable moment in film history.