Saturday, 9 January 2016

Ice and the Sky Review

The cinema was as desolate as the Antarctic wastes in the film. Apparently, London’s expat French community had already headed home for Christmas. I had come to see the Luc Jacquet’s stunning Ice and the Sky at the French Institute’s Ciné Lumière. The quiet cinema only served to heighten my appreciation of the often lonely figure of Claude Lorius on screen.

COP21 release
This film was released to coincide with COP21, the 2015 United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris. The French glaciologist, Claude Lorius spent over 10 years of his life in extreme conditions. He went on 22 polar expeditions between 1957 and 1985.

The film's French name is La Glace et le Ciel 

Lorius at all ages
Ice and Sky tells the story of his life and groundbreaking climate research. It combines old film footage with beautiful shots of Antarctica. We see Claude Lorius as an enthusiastic young adventurer. We see teams of scientists drilling into the ice and carefully packing the ice samples for later analysis. We see staged shots of the reflective old man, now aged 82/3.

A scientist’s eureka moment is often mundane. An apple fell on Newton’s head. Hawking got his head stuck in a jumper. For Lorius, it was a piece of Antarctic ice dropped into a glass of whiskey. He realised that the air bubbles released might tell a tale. 

So it proved. There was evidence of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Evidence of man’s adverse effect on the planet could even be found in Antarctica’s virgin territory. He went on to sound the alarm on global warming and expose Man’s devastating impact on the world’s climate.

Painstaking accuracy
We hear of the scientist’s concern to record his findings accurately even in the bitterest cold. Removing your gloves to write is a painful experience in Antarctica.

Bitter pill
The old man on screen seemed sad and forlorn. His life’s work has been climatic in more ways than one. He has won prestigious awards for his research. And yet, the call for climate action has been hard. Awards become a bitter pill, if your research is not taken seriously.

Lost voice
In the film, he has no voice. His words are narrated or captured in old footage. A voice taken away as his findings were denied for so many years.

Film critics have slated Jacquet’s shot of Lorius up to his knees in water as manipulative. People only really understand research implications when they are presented visually. I’m sure those who had to wade through flood waters in Britain this Christmas get the picture.

Pic of bench surrounded by flood waters

At the end of 2014, I wrote my ambitious hopes for the world in Climate Change: seeking an impossible solution.  I also wrote about the Paris launch in COP21 World's Last Chance. My impression is that the UN climate talks delivered an agreement that was better than anticipated at this time last year.

Beauty and thought
Ice and Sky is a thought-provoking film. It has certainly provoked my thinking. Its cinematography was perhaps too beautifully French for its serious global message.

The film deserves an epilogue. We should hear from Claude Lorius on camera, and in his own voice, how he feels about his life’s work following COP21 – and hopefully see him smile.

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