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"Open your eyes before you die" is one of the lines from a lyric that accompanies the closing of Microcosmos, and itís good advice. Microcosmos actually opens our eyes for us, to a world below our nose and beneath our attention: the breathtaking world of insects. In just 76 minutes, this film takes us on a miraculous journey to the realm around our own feet. Urban Cinefile presents this special feature on the making of Microcosmos.

Not Ďscience fictioní, this movie belongs in the category of Ďexotic factí: from the fantastic creatures to their remarkable lifestyles, Microcosmos takes us into another world, where raindrops are the size of your head, your enemies either fold you gently into their poisonous arms or spin silken thread about you to immobilise you before sucking you dry. No, itís not Wall Street, itís the field of flowers.

Two snails entwine and embrace in a sensuous, slow-mo love dance . .

The Argyronet spider builds an undewrater diving bell of a dining room using air it swallows and brings from the surface - then throws the shrimp in and has a feast. Two ants share a droplet of water. A cousin mosquito emerges and morphs into its adult form out of the still surface of a pond like some extraterrestrial. A eucera bee falls in love with the Ophrys orchid. Two snails entwine and embrace in a sensuous, slow-mo love dance . .

The Aveyron region of France provides the fertile ground for the research required for Microcosmos, with its unexploited space and suitable climate. The filmmakers, Claude Nurdisany and Marie Perennou, live and work in the area. "Thereís nothing extraordinary about it," they say, "itís almost like a backyard. It is some kind of virgin land that has kept much of its natural resources. It suggested to us the idea of the unity of place: we thought this could be someplace where unexpected things couu\ld happen. And we considered describing a beautiful summer day and telling what was going on there. To insects one day is more intense than it is for us. The day we describe in Microcosmos is a sort of symbolic dayt, 24 hours treated as if it were a whole year in our life, with all the intense moments affecting it."

In showing the insects dealing with their everyday lives, the filmmakers have tried to show the insects in a new light. "Like living beings confronted with obstacles and the difficulties of destiny."

"It was a small miracle"

Some shots took up to 40 takes, "and we needed great understanding of each species". One such scene involves the sacred dung beetle, which rolls up its pill of droppings. "In this case, rather than wait till you come upon it, which would be uncertain given itís such a rare species, we held one prisoner for a few weeks in its so called Ďdressing roomí - a luxurious terrarium! - providing it with the conditions to do what was expected of it, namely make its pellet. We provided it with the raw material, which by chance was available, namely sheep droppings. Then we served it this hot meal and we waited. In the end, one day it finally made its pill and we carried it onto the shooting location. It worked and it was a small miracle, like most of the scenes."

But not content for the insects to be mere case studies, they showed the sacred beetle stumble and get caught up before finding a solution. "We insisted on showing the small failures of life, the troubles and all the problems that can occur. And itís well known that itís always fun to see others in trouble!"

"Humour makes it possible to overcome distance."

Indeed, this humour was intentional: "Even when it is scattered here and there, it is an important aspect of the film. Itís of course a form of complicity. We have stopped watching strange creatures: weíre on the same level. Humour makes it possible to overcome distance."

The detailed knowledge needed to make this film was accumulated over some 15 years of research by the filmmakers, who are originally biologists. Specialising in the tiniest creatures, their aim has been to unveil the secret world of plants and animals. They made their first documentary in 1984, The Inhabitants of the Mirror.

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Some of the cast of Microcosmos (all of whom are credible and give terrific performances) are : Ladybird with seven spots, Swallow-tail butterfly, Climbing caterpillar, Bee gathering pollen from the sage flower . . .

. . . Long-tailed blue caterpillar, Burgundy snails, New-born caterpillar of the Jason butterfly, Argiope Spider, Bombyle (gathering fly). . .

. . . Processionary caterpillars, Red ants, Gathering ants, Polist wasps, Sacred beetle, Pheasant, Water Spiders, Notonects, Argyronet Spider. . .

. . . Young Agrion dragon-flies, Eucera bee in love with the Ophyrs orchid, Stag beetles, Rhinoceros Beetle, Iule, and others.

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