Microcosmos (1996)

Documentary Rated G

I could watch this stuff all day.

Most nature documentaries will capture my attention; when one envisions the natural world in a completely new way, I’m transfixed.

That’s what Microcosmos does. Using lenses able to capture insects in incredible detail, as well as time-lapse photography and slow motion, filmmakers Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou turn a French meadow into an otherworldly fantasia. After watching it, you’ll want to run outside and drop to the ground, searching between blades of grass as you did when you were a kid.

Microcosmos runs almost exclusively on this joyful sense of discovery. There is only sparse voiceover narration at the beginning and end and no scientific identification or explanation whatsoever. It’s less of an academic approach than an impressionistic one. Scales glisten, legs scuttle, antennae unfurl, all in a symphony of exquisite shapes and inhuman motion. Watching the movie is like peering into a living kaleidoscope.

There is also drama, from a battle between two armored combatants to a lingering wet kiss between two snails to a beetle’s Sisyphean struggle to roll a ball of dung up a hill. (Your heart will sink when he gets it stuck on a twig.) And in its depiction of the catastrophic effects of a seemingly gentle rainstorm, Microcosmos inverts our understanding of the cosmos. At that moment, in this meadow, it’s the rest of the universe that’s small.