Luc Jacquet’s new Cannes-closing film Ice and the Sky returns to the Antarctic – this time to the detriment of publicity for the penguins, which were the focus of his previous award-winning film, March of the Penguins – to tell the story of climatologist Claude Lorius. The history of glaciology is brought to life through the archival footage of Claude Lorius’s first explorations of the southern ice caps and the journey to the discovery of how the chemical memory of ice proved the link between carbon dioxide levels, the concentration of greenhouse gases, and climate change.
The heroic-ized and personalized portrayal of the process of scientific discovery builds a powerful emotional connection between the viewer and knowledge transmission through the voice-over narration of the archival footage, some of which had never been developed. We follow Claude through life in a 250-square-foot underground space just under 45 degrees Fahrenheit of the French Charcot base, to the big eureka moment of realisation that the climate history of the earth can be measured through trapped air bubbles in the snow, which hold samples of the atmospheric temperature when they fell. This leads to drilling that takes Claude back 400,000 years to show that the last centuries do not constitute a normal variation in temperature, and are the result of human impact. In attempting to show t that growth comes with a cost, Claude is met with denial and pressure to keep quiet.
He speaks to us – quite literally: the beautifully choreographed shots of Claude in Antarctica, and in the forests that he had predicted 50 years ago would suffer from climate change synthesises Claude’s story as a visionary – of an age of the Anthropocene, in which humans are the drivers of the planet’s ecology and climate. And this dialogue is a call to arms – a sounding of the global alarm. By showing how Claude’s destiny has changed the way we relate to the world, and that only through a better understanding of a world in which climate is a mirror we all share, can we can each take more meaningful action – Jacquet succeeds in putting a human face to the science behind the unfolding catastrophes of climate change. Although climate change deniers might not have left convinced, least of all informed, with the little scientific content actually covered; but perhaps those who don’t find the science appealing enough need human interest angles such as this one.
The film ends with an open challenge to the viewer. “The message is clear”: by showing how it’s all about the personal relationship between man and nature – whether it is through a passion for the Antarctic or for using eco-friendly products – it sets out to illustrate that each of our destinies can contribute to the way we relate to the world. This is Claude’s testimony. “Now that you know, what are you going to do?”
Ice and the Sky is in cinemas and on VOD 11 December www.iceandthesky.co.uk