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Film review

Indie Flicks: Passion in a cold place

Published July 28, 2005

[Photo: Warner Independent Pictures

March of the Penguins (G) (80 min.) - The lovers nuzzle and nibble and look at each other soulfully, realizing the instinctual perfection of their union. It's foreplay between strangers in a crowd, the strangers unaware and uncaring that anyone else is near. In moments, the camera is so tightly focused on their bodies in sexual rhythm that it's impossible to know where he ends and she begins.

Luc Jacquet's March of the Penguins is rated G, so there's no reason to cover the children's eyes. These aren't people: They are emperor penguins making the first steps in a remarkable procreation story repeated for centuries. Cold showers couldn't stop them; if living in Antarctica doesn't chill their ardor and dedication, nothing will. That's only the beginning of their extraordinary efforts to preserve the species.

Over the next few months, this couple and hundreds like them will march - actually, waddle, fall and occasionally slide on their plump bellies - nearly 70 miles to the same thick ice region their ancestors revisited. The female will lay an egg, sheltering it from ultrafrigid conditions atop her feet and under her stomach. The egg must be shifted from parent to parent for protection while the other makes the long walk back to waters where food swims and predators await. A few seconds of exposure will destroy the egg and waste all of this extraordinary effort.

Jacquet and his crew endured the same subzero conditions to capture this fascinating example of survival of the fittest, yet the penguins don't share center stage until the closing credits. March of the Penguins is a remarkably straightforward documentary in these days of carefully manicured "truth" and filmed ego. It looks like the National Geographic production that it is: a bit dry for some tastes and dramatically abrupt in its final reel. The film's only concession to traditional entertainment is casting Academy Award winner Morgan Freeman's voice, a soothing baritone occasionally wrapped around some frivolous narration.

Jacquet, a biologist by trade, served as cameraman on a previous Antarctic documentary about emperor penguins. He was fascinated by their mating habits and turned them into a magazine article, then a movie in which French actors supposedly voiced the penguin couple's inner thoughts. Thank heaven, that conceit was ditched for the U.S. version, with Freeman installed. Those adorable penguins and their incredible journey don't need any other stunts to be compelling. A-

- STEVE PERSALL, Times film critic

[Last modified July 27, 2005, 09:54:07]

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