‘Microcosmos’ (1995)

by Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou


I am not sure what originally ignited the fascination I’ve always had with the insect world. It’s just one of those interests I have that, somewhat understandably, has made more than a few people look at me funny and ask if I’m alright. Perhaps it began when my grandmother looked at anthills with me as a child, or maybe that time I got to borrow my cousin’s VHS copy of Pixar’s A Bug’s Life? I don’t know, but no matter the reason, my immense fascination with this tiny world that exists in and around our own is not a recently acquired interest.

Before A Bug’s Life, there was Microcosmos, but the difference between the two is that Microcosmos did not need the assistance of computers to immerse us in a world that’s too small for us to properly visit. And no matter how good animation has become since A Bug’s Life or even how good they’ve possibly made the insects in the upcoming Ant-Man film look, nothing will ever hold a candle to seeing real things in front of a camera, least of all when we’re talking about extreme close-ups of a world we usually only see from far, far away.

Microcosmos is a truly amazing French 1996 documentary by Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou. It is almost completely free of narration and 100% free of human actors, focusing instead on what we might as well call the everyday lives of our miniscule neighbours. In a way, it makes me think of Koyaanisqatsi and Baraka. With zero reliance on CGI or any such fancy tricks, it instead uses great camera work, good timing and breathtaking close-ups to take us on a journey that would make anyone feel as though they’re right there among the bugs, arachnids and mollusks, experiencing planet Earth as they experience it.

The movie also brings us closer to the microcosmos on, I dare say, intimate levels when it gives us that iconic scene in which two snails are mating to the tune of romantic opera music. A little bit weird and funny, yes, but it still manages to be just as fascinating and gripping a scene as any other in the movie, mostly because it demonstrates something I trust most people have no idea about: just how do snails have sex? The question no longer needs to be raised, my friends.

What brings us even closer to these creatures is how the sound design is used to give a strange sense of weight to such light animals, as well as different objects that they interact with. Drops of rain, for instance, are like air strike bombs.

It is used particularly well in a scene where two beetles engage in an epic battle on top of a tree branch, humourously disturbing the peace of other nearby insects in the meantime, especially what appears to be an armadillidiidae woodlouse just minding his own business. Poor guy.

The amount of details we’re granted by this film’s insanely cool imagery is something to admire, not just in terms of the filmmaking, but in terms of nature and its beauty, especially when you consider that the beauty in this case is too small for us to fully notice with naked eyes. Nowhere has such beauty been showcased as grippingly and awesomely as in Microcosmos, with its lovely music (courtesy of Bruno Coulais, who also did the score for Coraline), astounding photography, and mountains of funny scenes involving the kind of stuff bugs typically get up to on a regular day. It makes us more familiar with them, just as it gives us a new perspective of our very planet. I honestly recommend it more strongly than I’ve recommended most things on this blog.