There is just one man-made wonder here, but it’s a big one – the filming.


An Illusion review by Joan Ellis

         “Winged Miracle” is the story of  “a promise to return.”  It is also a breathtaking piece of photography that captures birds in flight as they repeat the patterns of their ancestors.  For five years director Jacques Perrin and fourteen cinematographers tried not just to get close to birds with their lenses, but to fly with them.  Being humans, they needed an assist from gliders and balloons; the result is arresting.

“For eighty million years, birds have ruled the skies, seas and earth.  Each spring, they fly vast distances.  Each fall, they fly back on the same route.  This film is the result of four years following their amazing odysseys, in the northern hemisphere and then the south, species by species, flying over seas and continents”…Jacques Perrin

We absorb two amazing sights:  the miracle of flight, and the miracle of the planet that sustains it.  There is just one man-made wonder here, but it’s a big one – the filming.  The smaller birds, like the Arctic tern, flap their wings madly for 12,500 miles.  No gliding or swooping or rest for them.  Their little wings have to move full time to keep them airborne.  The big birds beat their wings, then glide in graceful arcs; some pull their wings back and dive like swords into the sea.  Most can take off like a whip and turn on a dime.

The images are indelible:  The snowy owl; the white stork standing atop a spire, straightening his body until it is all of a piece.  The geese, long necks leading, feet trailing, from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Circle; the Common Murre, his eyes ringed in black, like goggles that might protect him from the wind; birds lighting to rest on a small ship in the enormous sea.  An old lady with a sharp beak of her own feeds the passers by;  the penguins stroll leisurely in their Sunday best on the beach; the new babies; the albatross. 

How to they flap those delicate wings for 12,000 miles?  What makes a bird a leader?  Why do they fly over the oceans rather than staying on land where they can touch down to rest in storms?  When they are caught in a vicious snowstorm, why didn’t they leave earlier?  Why does the albatross fly in circles?

Director Perrin wisely limits criticism of man’s follies.  Except for quick shots of an oil-covered bird, some hunters’ guns, and a zoo raider, he sticks to his dream of engaging the birds in flight.  Showing us the landscape beneath them - the oceans, rivers, marshes, beaches, and forests, deserts – speaks strongly enough.  We have literally, a bird’s eye view of what we, down below, are throwing away.  The passing sight of the twin towers, still in place in this film, reminds us that only man is likely to disrupt the delicate balance beneath the birds that nourishes them and guides them in their extraordinary migration.  


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