“Il Pianeta Azzurro. A poem, a voyage, a concert on nature, universe, life. A different image from the one we always see.”
― Andrei Tarkovsky The Blue Planet
An epic natural symphony playing across three planes of time.
On the surface level, Franco Piavoli observes the vegetal and animal realms of Earth throughout the span of a single day, from dawn to dusk and dawn once more. In yet another plane, the film charts the passage of seasons across one whole year, beginning with the thawing ice as winter makes way for spring, and subsequently summer for autumn and winter again. Finally, this grand meditation on flora and fauna is extrapolated to stretch out over billions of years, finding the origins of life on earth within melting glaciers and growing vegetation, concluding with a gloomy vision of the end of times in a desolate and depopulated earth, it’s characteristic blue colour now lost to muted grey overtones.
The Blue Planet by Franco Piavoli is an extraordinary effort at contemplating the entire span of living history on Earth, as seen through the lens of daily mundanity and seasonal changes within the various spheres of life. The wrath of a thunderstorm is soon followed by the soft wet caress of rain, the harbinger of relief and fertility to the parched soils and landscapes, preparing for an eruption of life within the natural kingdom. We see the rain once more at a much later stage, this time witnessing its cleansing power, as it washes and purges out the dirt and dust―remnants of the lives gone by―restoring the world to a pristine and primitive state, ripe for the next generation of living beings to thrive and prosper.
It is characteristic of Piavoli’s films to be entirely without dialogue, the whole of their expression condensed within their images and sounds, and this singular technique is probably best utilized in The Blue Planet. A couple of young adults make love on the grass in the height of spring, just as snails and insects also mate with each other all around them. Mankind isn’t placed at the top of any natural hierarchical order, and as such―on the occasions that the humans do talk among each other―there are no subtitles, the same way that there aren’t any subtitles to translate the chittering of birds or the croaking of toads or the whistling of the wind. The denotative quality of language takes a backseat, as Piavoli focuses on the connotative power of natural sounds and gestures, and this absence of talk lets the viewer engage in internal monologues with themselves while processing the images onscreen.
Instead, the domineering presence of man within planetary history is seen in a different manner ― through the various marks and signs, large and small, left behind in the lap of nature by human activity. For a brief moment, the eye of the camera rests on the grassy depression—where only minutes ago the young couple were frolicking together—and soon moves on to gaze upon dams, towers and farming equipment that alter and interfere with the organic existence of water and earth. The artificiality of the electric machinery makes it an alien amongst the natural order on Earth, and the same is evoked at night by the curious sight of its flashing lights lost in a sea of darkness.
As the day comes to a close and dusk sets in, we see the humans recede to their homes and seek rest, signalling the onset of autumn and also the beginning of the end on earth. The men and women try to sleep by the moonlight, some tossing and turning restlessly, almost in anticipation of the fact that this night marks the ultimate slumber of mankind itself. The final image of a human in The Blue Planet is a close-up of an old man’s face, the deep wrinkles resembling contours of the landscape, in the last stages of autumn. We’ll see no more of these homo sapiens for the remainder of the film, similar to their conspicuous absence in the opening 25 minutes, even though we will find scattered evidence of their existence. And it is only fitting, considering that mankind only really occupies a slender band of time within the vast history of Planet Earth, our own egos notwithstanding.
Franco Piavoli is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, a rare master of images who has consistently committed himself to seek out the purest modes of cinematic expression. Far away from conventional literary or theatrical ties, his filmmaking speaks entirely through his cinematography and editing, as he alternates between breathtaking long shots and roving handheld close-ups, to mirror his philosophy incorporating the largest and minutest aspects and concerns of the world. He places mankind not above and separate, but alongside the rest of the natural kingdom, at once mining the significance of little moments of intimacy as well as showing us our own utter insignificance within the cosmic scheme of existence.
Watching a Piavoli film is like losing yourself in the warm and tender arms of Mother Nature, transcending the shackles of time, basking in her infinite patience and organic beauty, an intensely liberating and therapeutic getaway from life and within life, through cinema. The Blue Planet