Dispatches: News from the Field, November 1996
At this year's Cannes Film Festival, Miramax Films made a move that was...unusual. The studio put its distribution might behind an independent French feature that has no plot and no dialogue. Sure, Microcosmos has a fair amount of sex and a bit of violence, but not enough to attract hard-core alternative movie buffs looking for prurient titillation.
So why is Microcosmos, slated for nationwide release this month, poised to become the hottest art-house flick of 1996? Because the film, which follows the inhabitants of a French meadow over the course of a summer day at shockingly close range, does for insects what E.T. did for aliens: It humanizes the "other." The creatures we meet scratch and groom, fight and love, tap their toes and fret. A fuzzy pink-and-green caterpillar tosses its head, and the audience at a packed-to-the rafters press screening in New York coos, "Awww." Two snails copulate--their gastropods moving against each other in undulating, wet waves--and the audience squirms. "It's ob-scene," moans one gratified screener.
Of course, such high concept does not come without considerable toil. Filmmakers Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou spent 15 years researching their subjects' lifestyles. They spent another two years designing camera and lighting equipment and then three years shooting 50 miles of film.
The result fills us with wonder. Why do caterpillars, in the heat of the day, journey nose-to-tail in a larval conga line? Why doesn't the Argiope spider become entangled in her own web, even as she shrink-wraps her prey? Refreshingly, in an age when Hollywood insists on pat conclusions, Microcosmos provides no answers--only intrigue.