Sep 21, 2005 at 12:00 am

This is Claude Nuridsany and Marie Pérennou’s follow-up to their landmark film Microcosmos (1996), which examined the mostly hidden world of insects, revealing a strange and beautiful landscape of seemingly unearthly abstraction. Genesis is technically similar, exploring the creation of the universe and subsequently, life on Earth. However, because the topic is so huge and riddled with physical and philosophical conundrums, the approach is more facile. The film asserts that each of us comes from scattered atoms and will eventually return to that mysterious state, cushioning the proposition with pleasingly appealing visuals.

The film is narrated by an African griot, a wise storyteller (apparently they couldn’t get Morgan Freeman). After giving a modified Big Bang theory explanation of the origin of everything and the formation of the Earth, the narrator gets down to survival of the hungriest. But despite the scenes of sex and violence, these primal denizens aren’t anthropomorphically accessible. They’re not as likable as the creatures in Winged Migration or March of the Penguins. In fact, some of these slimy crustaceans look like queasy monstrosities that David Cronenberg might have dreamt up. Still, seeing this variety of toads and seahorses, snakes and spiders going about their instinctual business, filmed up close and personal, has the intended effect of revealing nature’s awesome machinations. But things aren’t necessarily what they seem. The griot is really just an actor, his words of wisdom are a script by the directors, and some of the creatures-in-their-habitats sequences were re-created and shot in a studio. It’s carefully constructed to make its nature lesson neat and palatable, and the larger questions and contemplations of creation and death are glossed over or set aside. But then the film’s function isn’t really to explain such things; it’s to visually dazzle, and in that it succeeds more often than not.


In French with English subtitles. Showing at the Detroit Film Theatre, inside the DIA, 5200 Woodward Ave. Detroit, at 7 and 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday. Sept. 23 and 24, and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 25. 313-833-3237.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].