Review by Sean Boelman
Initially, nature documentaries may seem simple given that so many of their shots are done from afar, but the reality is that they are some of the most complex films around. Marie Amiguet and Vincent Munier’s The Velvet Queen is a perfect example of why, a gorgeous and often awe-inspiring movie.
The film follows a wildlife photographer and a novelist who set out on a quest in the Tibetan plateau attempting to spot the elusive snow leopard. Although watching people watch wildlife may not sound like it is the most cinematic story on paper, Amiguet does an excellent job of finding the narrative thread to carry it through.
One of the things that really drives this story is the relationship between the two human subjects. The movie pairs two people who are highly experienced in this world, a wildlife photographer and an adventurer, and their love for nature is infectious. And yet, despite both of them being very skilled in what they do, the film doesn’t feel inaccessible at all.
Of course, the main draw of the movie is not the people — it’s the animals. The film mythicizes the snow leopard in a way that makes us fall in love with the species’s breathtaking elegance. There is a certain level of mystery to the big cat because of the fact that its habitat is so secluded and that it is such a reclusive species, and the movie really leans into that.
However, with that also comes a lot of waiting. The subjects of the film are very patient in their search for the snow leopard, but the movie does not demand the same patience of the viewer. Instead, we get to see and learn about some of the other animals that share the ecosystem with the eponymous creature.
There is a lot to be said in the film about the fleeting nature of natural beauty, which lends the movie some implicit environmentalist themes. One of the film’s main messages is about human interference in the ecosystem. These questions directly relate to the subjects trying to catch a glimpse of the snow leopard, but can also be applied to the bigger picture.
Of course, the movie is also absolutely gorgeous in the way it was shot. The nature cinematography is phenomenal, shot predominantly from afar because of the difficulties of approaching the snow leopard up close. However, the techniques used by the filmmakers make it feel intimate nonetheless.
The Velvet Queen is a great nature documentary that is impressive in its quietude. All of the elements come together here to create a movie that is absolutely breathtaking, both visually and in what it does narratively.
The Velvet Queen is now in theaters.