Blue Planet: Leisurely Abstractions


On its 25th anniversary, Franco Piavoli’s Blue Planet remains a one-of-a-kind nature documentary: While Planet Earth and its ilk try to shock and awe viewers into submission, this is a defiantly formalist, nearly avant-garde Italian countryside romp. Ambitiously three-tiered in its structure, Blue Planet covers a day and a half (in “narrative” time), all four seasons (which take place over the film’s time span), and, implicitly, the evolution of life itself—from the cracking of ice to humans frolicking in a meadow. The first third is the most impressive, every shot rigorously abstracting familiar images: sparkles of light reflected on a rushing river flash by like Brakhage scratches; water droplets from a tree branch become a quick study in prismatic light dilations. People aren’t even a factor until 30 minutes in—a quick flash of running bodies through the trees—and then, suddenly, they become the focus. A couple lolling in the fields is perfectly OK, but shots of squabbling farmers remind us that the Good Earth contains Bad Things. At night, everything slows down for an Italian countryside dinner, and soon we’re in the familiar terrain of generalized human melodrama—leisurely meals with wine and bonhomie, a woman sobbing in bed at night. The film morphs slowly (too slowly) into a general study of the human condition on planet Earth, providing hippies with smug bromides. A shame, because before it becomes a movie for nature lovers, Blue Planet is for anyone who values abstract imagery. (Blue Planet screens as part of Lincoln Center’s “Open Roads: New Italian Cinema” series, and will also play in a Piavoli retrospective at Anthology Film Archives, June 12-15, in addition to a run at Two Boots Pioneer starting June 13.)