It’s testament to an overdue and definitive shift to mainstream debate that a documentary on climate change was chosen to close this year’s Cannes Film Festival. A decade on from the cuddly tale of monogamy and perseverance that was March of the Penguins (2005), Luc Jacquet again returns to the Antarctic. Much like the beloved subjects of his world renowned animal odyssey the French director’s latest project, Ice and the Sky (2015), details a life lived predominantly in the unrelenting bitterness of sub-zero temperatures.
Pioneering glaciologist Claude Lorius, now 83, states that he “will always be 23 years old,” so struck was he by the first time he laid eyes upon the vast, icy expanses of the southern polar region. Ice and the Sky is the story of Lorius’ expeditions, the predictions he made from drilling through several Ice Ages of ice, the sad resignation to the veracity of these findings and the negligent apathy demonstrated by naysayers the world over for more than thirty years since. Opening images show a man’s shadow cast over rippling layers of snow.
The symbolism is clear: human kind looms large over the natural world. Saturated as we now are with proof of global warming and its potentially irreversible effects, Jacquet’s film does not offer new or revelatory information. Instead, it contributes to the ever growing canon of its genre by bringing an immediacy to the early days and evolution of research in this area. Al Gore may have been the man to shoot global warming to the forefront of people’s minds with An Inconvenient Truth but Lorius, accompanied by an equally devoted team of researchers, was the man who came up with the data for the US politician’s PowerPoint presentation. Through what we are led to believe is impassioned narration by Lorius – in fact voiced by Michel Papineschi – the notion of what could be discovered through science, what peeling back the layers of history could reveal for our future is recounted with an invigorating enthusiasm.
Shots of a now-aged Lorius trekking through familiar surroundings, looking nostalgically off-camera into the serene beauty of breath-taking winterscapes do feel a little surplus to requirements but credit (and therefore screen time) where credit is due. A staggering amount of footage taken from that first expedition (in 1956) onwards captures all elements of the extraordinary feat achieved. There is something about the jittery, grainy video that exacerbates the hardships of lumbering men and equipment to the ends of the world several times amid gale force winds and temperatures as low as -50C. As one voyage turns to two, three and then four, Ice and the Sky feels increasingly formulaic in structure; however, it remains a thorough and fitting tribute to an extraordinarily dedicated and humble individual with an “incontestable message”. Turning to point an accusatory finger at viewers upon its conclusion, we are asked what we will do from now on. Claude Lorius has given sixty years to the study of man’s impact on our only home. Now it’s our turn to do something about it.