Gallic biologists-cum-filmmakers Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou put life in and around a French pond under the microscope in “The Field of Enchantment,” their latest glossy cute-critters docu after earlier hits “Microcosmos” and “Genesis.” Though a fictional element, involving two curious kids, is given some prominence, this is pretty much business as usual, with the impeccable photography and soigne score and soundscape imbuing countless everyday animals with a rare grace, as well as the slightly anthropomorphic qualities especially kids love. Euro theatrical potential is a given, but Stateside, appeal beyond the National Geographic/Discovery crowd will require serious marketing muscle.
Version screened at the Venice fest was the Italian dub, with narrator Massimo Rossi replacing the original French voiceover of thesp-helmer Denis Podalydes. The semi-poetic text recalls a time in the unnamed narrator’s youth when, as a boy (portrayed onscreen by Simon Delagnes), he was sent to the countryside to stay with his cousins. However, the silent child, who has no dialogue, prefers the company of animals rather than that of any family members.
His favorite place close to the farm is Idle Pond, a secluded body of water, surrounded by reeds, that teems with life above and below the surface. Indigenous birds and countless insects, reptiles, amphibians and fish go about their daily duties as the boy looks on in child-like wonderment (as, no doubt, does most of the audience). Though a mysterious girl (Lindsey Henocque) in a poppy-red dress later joins him, the focus remains mostly on the flora and especially the fauna that surround them.
The nature and animal photography combines location work at an actual pond in the Lazarc area (in the southern part of the Massif Central) with work done in the studio, notably for some of the underwater sequences. As in their previous films, Nuridsany and Perennou use bright lighting and careful camera positioning to reveal the animal protagonists in all their glory, with editing and framing deployed for alternately dramatic and comic purposes, as images of different species are juxtaposed.
The most effective shots remain the extreme closeups of critters in their natural habitat, which, especially in cinemas, blows up some of the protags to much more than life size, allowing auds a good look at what usually remains hidden or is, at best, hardly noticeable.
Composer Bruno Coulais, who also scored “Genesis” and “Microcosmos,” again provides superb accompaniment. Appropriately, his work occasionally recalls Saint-Saens’ “Carnival of the Animals,” which similarly tried to translate beastly behavior and movements into orchestral music. Jean Goudier’s complex, Foley-driven sound design is equally evocative and playful, though some docu purists might balk at the fact he’s working entirely from scratch (no source sound accompanies the animal footage).
With its stronger fictional elements, pic moves a little closer to the nature-docu-meets-cute-story subset of Gallic films (“The Fox and the Child,” “The Last Trapper”). But the bid for some human drama and humor doesn’t really jive with the helming duo’s continued emphasis on editing, score and sound to move their nature-focused narrative along. Some scenes, including the kids’ imaginary walk on the bottom of the pond, take the viewer right out of the material rather than cementing the various elements together.
Costumes, as well as a few prop details and locations (from an uncredited production designer), suggest pic is set in a nostalgic version of the past sometime in the second half of the last century.