THE VELVET QUEEN

Reviewed by GREG KING

Documentary

Directors: Marie Amiguet, Vincent Munier

In 2019, award winning nature photographer Vincent Munier set out to try and capture vision of the rare and elusive snow leopard in its natural habitat. There are less than 7000 snow leopards in the world today and they mostly live in the most remote regions of the Himalayas, and rarely venture below 3500 feet.  

Munier was accompanied on this expedition by Cesar award winning filmmaker and cinematographer Marie Amiguet and his friend, the best-selling travel writer Sylvain Tesson (In The Forest Of Siberia, etc), who provides the poetic and lyrical narration and offers up some philosophical discussion on the appreciation of nature, both the beauty and fragility of this natural environment, the power of meditation and quiet contemplation. His narration is almost like a stream of consciousness but occasionally comes across as a tad pretentious. 

This visually stunning documentary was shot over a period of two weeks in the desolate mountainous regions of Tibet, and the crew faced harsh conditions and freezing temperatures as they waited in their little camouflaged blind hoping to spot the rare snow leopard. In the meantime, Munier was able to capture images of other creatures like yaks, antelopes, owls, falcons, wolves, bears, and other diverse natural inhabitants of this remote region. Munier was familiar with the stillness, the quiet anticipation and patience required to observe natural environments, while Tesson sometimes seems bored by the endless waiting for something to happen and the endless anticipation and stillness and quiet. Munier admits that often he comes away from a shoot like this without the desired results. While Tesson came to a greater appreciation of the beauty of the world around him, a perception that has hitherto largely passed him by due to his busy and peripatetic lifestyle. He wrote about his experiences with Munier in his book The Art Of Patience – Seeking The Snow Leopard.  

Munier and Amiquet share co-directing credits on The Velvet Queen, and they capture some stunning imagery and views of the often-forbidding landscape, and this documentary deserves to be seen on the big screen. The three were also accompanied by filmmaker Leo-Pol Jacquot, who was credited as cinematographer and second unit director. The documentary is accompanied by an atmospheric score from Warren Ellis (who also scored the 2001 documentary Winged Migration) and the haunting ballad We Are Not Alone, sung by frequent collaborator Nick Cave. 

The Velvet Queen is as much about the journey itself rather than the destination and the film itself requires a lot of patience from the audience too as we wait for something to happen to break up the monotony. While quite beautiful to look at, The Velvet Queen is languidly paced and may not be a film for everybody. 

★★★

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