The Velvet Queen is an exquisite film featuring two adventurers trekking through the wild and magnificent mountains of remote Tibet.
Vincent Munier, renowned wildlife photographer and film-maker, has invited his friend, the writer Sylvain Tesson, to accompany him on his latest mission — searching for the endangered and elusive snow leopard.
Together with co-director Marie Amiguet they have succeeded in producing a film which is far more than just another beautiful wildlife documentary. It is a philosophical journey which has the viewer reflecting on the wonders of the natural world and the contrast with man’s destructive ignorance.
Its contemplative effect is emphasised by the original score composed by Warren Ellis and featuring Nick Cave.
Working with a small camera team, Tesson and Munier spend two months exploring the rocky terrain of the Tibetan mountains.
This is vast, spectacular country, with sweeping views of unexplored and inaccessible valleys.
It takes endless patience to find the amazing creatures which survive in this unforgiving wilderness.
Tesson’s whispered off-screen comments reveal his deep respect for Munier’s passion for nature, his in-depth knowledge of the animals they are seeking and his ability to wait in silence for hours and even days for the creatures to reveal themselves.
“It gives me pause when I see you revelling in each encounter,” he reflects. “We are so indifferent to the world around us – hardly aware of it.”
Their dogged trekking through the rocky terrain, as high as 5000 metres, is rewarded with some wonderful shots – great herds of animals travelling through distant mountain valleys, close-ups of cute little furry rodents, a trio of sure-footed mountain bears, a Tibetan fox digging out the small denizen of a hidden tunnel, majestic stags with enormous antlers battling for supremacy, owls, eagles and tiny birds which survive in the wilderness, a huge furry mountain cat stalking its prey.
Many of the animals are so well camouflaged against the rocks that even as the camera focusses directly on them they are difficult to make out.
Tesson becomes aware that they are being watched as closely as they themselves are watching.
They spend one night in a bear cave, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the bear might want to return to its lair.
In the end there is the triumph of finding and filming the wily snow leopard – not snowy white, as you might expect, but with a mottled coat which makes it almost impossible to see against the rocky background.
It’s a serene but sobering experience to get a glimpse of this pristine landscape, wondering how long it can survive in our endangered world.
The Velvet Queen aired at UWA’s Somerville Auditorium as part of the Perth Festival Lottery West film season. If you missed it, keep an eye out for future screenings.
Watch the trailer…