It is a normal spring day in a normal meadow, but look a little closer, closer than the larger animals that populate the area and towards the tiniest creatures which make their way through the undergrowth, fly through the air and move across the pond water - and under it. They each endure their own dramas, taking in this time of year sex and violence and eating and everything that keeps them alive. And most of the time we pay them no notice, so let's take a journey into their world for just over an hour...
In those science fiction movies of the nineteen-fifties, there was a preponderance of giant insects and arachnids, with ants and grasshoppers jostling for position with spiders and praying mantises as who could be the biggest menace. Microcosmos, or Microcosmos: Le Peuple de l'Herbe to give the film its full title, also presents us with huge-looking creepy crawlies, but the difference here is we're suppposed to feel affection towards them as they battle to get through their days.
Before March of the Penguins came along, the French animal documentary to be reckoned with was this effort from directors Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou. Meticulously shot, it presents a wide variety of subjects for us to feast out eyes on, all in remarkable detail from ants dwarfed by the seeds and dried flowers they drag along to their nest, to the spider getting lucky with two grasshoppers in one day caught in its web. These creatures are shown to us on the ground, in the air and on the water, displaying the wide variety of nature.
The directors were accused of humanising their stars, anthropomorphising their behaviour with music (snails mating is accompanied by the sounds of opera, for instance), but in truth its all in the eye of the beholder, and difficult not to interpret the insects' actions as something we would make connections with in our own lives. After all, we share many of the same concerns, and this film prompts musings on just how self-aware these beasties are, what level of intelligence they enjoy, and how they know to carry on as they do: what programmed all this into their minute brains?
That's not to say that you'll be getting yourself a pet beetle after seeing this, as there are few pangs of emotion when, say, an ant colony becomes lunch for a pecking bird that looks like Godzilla in comparison. Mainly it's a fascination to see commonplace insects' actions rendered so important, although some of it is patently staged, the dung beetle's battle with its lunch the most obvious example. But what Microcosmos does is make these creatures seem like individuals where you would usually see them as a part of a crowd, and if anything else it will make you think twice about stepping on a bug. Wasps are fair game, of course. Music by Bruno Coulais.