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March of the Penguins (La Marche de l'Empereur)

Genre: Documentary
Rated: G
Directed by
Starring: The penguins of the Antarctic
Released by: Warner Independent Pictures

In Short: This lyrical epic by a French film team accompanying the emperor penguins on their long Antarctic journey will linger with you for weeks to come. It's documentary film-making at its finest.

It Ain't Easy Being a Penguin
A Love Story in the Antarctic
By Sylvie Greil

Once a year, at the end of the Antarctic summer, emperor penguins embark on an arduous journey of over seventy miles to reach a safe breeding ground where they can mate away from predators and shelter their young. In a single file these creatures cross endless plains of ice in one of the most unforgiving climates on the earth—as they have done for thousands of years. Through this astonishing documentary we accompany them on their long trek, spending an anxious year with the creatures as they mate and give birth to new life.

The footage, including the long journey itself, as well as male and female penguins delicately passing eggs to each other, and amazing underwater shots of them feeding (as well as being fed on) and frolicking, is rare and mind-blowing. Narrator Morgan Freeman’s warm storytelling voice contrasts distinctly with the inhospitable conditions under which these valiant animals fight to survive.

But while you feel relief at not having been born a penguin, their story is an uplifting one. True, if an egg is exposed but for seconds to the ice, the new life in it is destroyed. Penguins have to travel back and forth between the water and the breeding ground, seventy miles each way, to feed their babies, stumbling half-starved after not having eaten for six months and having lost one third to half of their original body weight. But it is also a love story. Penguins are monogamous creatures and they give birth to just one single chick a year. The astonishing close-ups of the birds cooing, necking and petting each other with their beaks are heart-breaking, and you wonder if there’s more to Darwinism than survival. Surely, these beautiful animals have feelings.

The parallels to our human lives cannot be helped at times, especially when the camera follows an endless file of critters, blurring the image until it could pretty much be humans trekking across the frozen ground. And again, you wonder about the very humans who have created this lyrical epic. They, led by director Luc Jacquet, lived through the same cruel blizzards with temperatures dropping 40 degrees below zero. Somehow, they managed to blend their lives with these penguins, capturing the most intimate, delicate moments on film. At times, the overall effect is just cuteness, but if you have ever wondered at the preciousness of life, this film and its haunting images will linger with you for weeks to come.

Photo Credit: Jérôme Maison. © 2005 Bonne Pioche Productions / Alliance De Production Cinématographique.

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