Cold snap: quest to photograph snow leopard in The Velvet Queen

Thursday, 28th April — By Dan Carrier

The Velvet Queen 23 Movie

The Tibetan snow leopard, star of The Velvet Queen. Photo: modernfilms.com/velvetqueen

THE VELVET QUEEN
Directed by Marie Amiguet and Vincent Munier
Certificate: 12a
☆☆☆☆

THIS big old world of ours has been made that much smaller by the medium of cinema. From film’s ability to bring alive cultures a long way from our homes, to take us to far away places (including sci-fi’s off-planet destinations), magicking us somewhere else completely has always been a key facet to what makes a great movie.

This is one of the main planks that make this wildlife documentary so enthralling, perhaps helped by a thirst for wilderness, fresh air and huge vistas after two years of a pandemic.

The Velvet Queen tells, at its face, the story of an epic quest to find and photograph the rarely seen Tibetan snow leopard.

Vincent Munier is a wildlife photographer who combines modern technology with a dogged patience and perseverance. He treks to the ends of the world to capture his subjects – and in this expansive, philosophical documentary, we learn about our relationship with the natural world through his glacial-slow working practises that garner incredible results.

Munier has an approach that feels like an antidote to modern technology. He builds a “blind” – a hide on a likely route for the leopard to take – and simply sits there and waits for his quarry. It is a test of patience and physical endurance.

“The aim is to see before being seen,” he says, and feels the pace of his work has lessons to apply back in Paris.

“When I get home, I should make the blind a life rule.”

Accompanying Munier is writer Sylvain Tesson. They have formed a partnership that has given birth to thoughtful and gentle musings on our natural world.

He penned a book called The Art of Patience, about his journey in Tibet and as his prose is feted across the French-speaking world, it is hardly surprising this documentary has a deliciously rich literary commentary. An element of pious wonder does not detract: instead, these two share their awe and what an experience it is.

The film has a very specific tone, set by the extraordinary location and the well-observed characters. It feels honest and straightforward, like the cinematic version of the literary musings of WG Sebald, who found truths in unlikely places.

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