The Velvet Queen

Original title or aka: La panthère des neiges

Director: Marie Amiguet, Vincent Munier
Starring: Vincent Munier, Sylvain Tesson
Distributor: Madman films
Runtime: 92 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2022
Reviewer: Fr Peter Malone msc
| JustWatch |
Rating notes: Infrequent coarse language

An often spectacular French documentary taking audiences into remote Tibetan mountain landscapes on a quest to see the majestic snow leopard.

While there are many wonderful documentaries on our television screens, the big screen experience of exotic landscapes, birds and animals, can be an overwhelming experience. Which is the case with The Velvet Queen.

Vincent Munier, who has built a formidable reputation over 20 years, is a wildlife photographer and cinematographer. Sylvain Tesson is a writer and novelist. Together they go into remote Tibetan mountains on a quest – to observe the little-seen snow leopard.

In terms of cinematography, the shots of the mountainous landscapes, the flat plains, the valleys, the ever-changing skies, the seasons and their moods, are always beautiful, and at times breathtaking. But, we are not just invited to look. We are invited to accompany the two men and get to know them, to see the landscapes and the animals from their perspective. We experience the trip with them and are amazed by their ability to ignore pain and time, as well as by their absolute trust that what they wish for will happen.

The two men are not in a hurry, they often sit and observe. They are delighted when they see a bear high on the cliffs, herds of antelope racing, stags in combat, eerie looking cats searching for prey, and so many of the local animals in their habitats, unfamiliar to us.

The two men are assisted by their assistant director Léo-Pol Jacquot and film director Marie Amiguet – but the latter two are completely unobtrusive. However, with such wonderful placing of the camera, use of lenses for extreme close-ups, distant takes, sometimes the camera high on cliffs looking down on the explorers, attention given solely to the two men and their quest, we feel we are there.

In the background are some of the Tibetan nomads and their flocks, a small community which welcomes the two men, genial meals, and a group of happy children, the Frenchmen trying to communicate in the local language. But, after these engaging human episodes, it is back into the mountains. The final reward, captured on film for us, is when we see the snow leopard roaming the mountains, killing prey, feeding, but moving majestically in a world that few human beings see.

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