The Velvet Queen by Marie Amiguet & Vincent Munier [9/10]

One book I have never forgotten is Peter Matthiessen’s luminous 1978 nature/travel memoir, The Snow Leopard. It transformed me into a greenie. Now, in “The Velvet Queen,” an eccentric, intrepid travel writer, Sylvain Tesson ventures into the 5,000-meter-plus heights of Tibet to seek the famously hard-to-find, hard-to-see snow leopard. Classified by IUCN as vulnerable (code for declining in numbers and only decades behind those possibly destined for extinction), this beautiful, powerful predator is “the ghost of the mountains.” Tesson narrates the film but he is not the star. Rather the inspirational pivot point of the film is famous photographer and moviemaker Vincent Munier, who is a chronicler of wild nature in extreme locations. A charismatic explorer-type, Munier readily admits he is far more at home peering at snow-swept mountains for elusive animals than back in civilization. Writer/director Marie Amiguet seamlessly constructs a tense narrative around the forays of the two men—photographer-explorer and writer-explorer—from an outpost hut into the high mountains, marveling at the animals and birds, while employing Munier’s deep knowledge of the snow leopard’s habits to achieve the near impossible: sight and capture on film. The plotline, as it were, is exciting, the cinematography is superb, and the landscape and creatures captured … well, they take one’s breath away. The Velvet Queen is the most visually stunning and moving film I have seen in 2022 so far, it’s a must-see.

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