The documentary “The Velvet Queen” asks viewers to experience solitude in a way that is hard to achieve in a movie theater. (Another issue this week, “Memoria,” gets closer to the combination of image, sound, and tempo needed to inspire that kind of contemplative state.)
“The Velvet Queen” follows wildlife photographer Vincent Munier and writer Sylvain Tesson on a mission in a mountainous region of Tibet. They hope to catch a glimpse of a rare snow leopard. Their journey, with no guarantee of success, requires extreme patience and a disconnection from what Tesson, who explains, calls the “puppet show of humanity.” At the end, he likens seeing the animal to the Promethean feat of stealing fire.
The film works on two basic levels. One is philosophical, as the camera watches as two men looking through viewfinders themselves experience the sensations of a place where humans rarely disrupt the natural order.
Munier directed “The Velvet Queen” with wildlife filmmaker Marie Amiguet, who includes Tesson in a drawing he makes for children in the area, but whose presence is generally unrecognized. The credits state that the film was shot with a small team and that great care was taken not to disturb the animals. Still, the men may not always be as alone as the film makes them seem.
On another level, “The Velvet Queen” is a wonderful nature documentary. While it’s hard to imagine that the film will end without a snow leopard, other animal stars are on the way: wild yaks, Tibetan foxes, bears, and the Pallas’s cat, whose cuddliness, to paraphrase Tesson, belies the fact that he would may jump on your throat if you try to pet him.
The Velvet Queen
Not judged. In French, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. In theatres.