First Trailer: New Doc ‘The Velvet Queen’ Follows the Trail of the Fabled Snow Leopard

The first trailer for the much ballyhooed new documentary The Velvet Queen opens with French writer/adventurer Sylvain Tesson explaining, “It’s a fragile and refined art, to wait for an animal that is never guaranteed to come.”

That quite succinctly sums up the lure of this film that so dazzled audiences at Cannes 2021 this past July – as human beings, we can hardly resist the thrill of anticipation, the exhilarating suspense of possible discovery. It certainly helps that it is also so stunningly shot, which, considering the rather unforgiving landscape, is in itself a breathtaking feat.

The terrain, specifically, is that of mountainous Tibet, and it is where Tesson, wildlife photographer Vincent Munier, and Franco-Swiss director Marie Amiguet have gone to catch a glimpse of the exceedingly elusive snow leopard. Amiguet is remarkably actually a first time documentarian, having trained and spent her career as a biologist.

In one scene Tesson recalls how Munier so temptingly invited him to travel to Tibet, “to pursue a being I thought had disappeared…the snow leopard.” In other words, this might be their last chance.

Granted, as of 2017 the New York Times had actually reported that the snow leopard was no longer officially counted as an endangered species; but with approximately just between 5000 and 10,000 still left surviving, it of course remains ever under threat. So there is a built-in urgency to The Velvet Queen – here is this unimaginably beautiful creature, and the reckless actions of mankind may mean that, little seen as she is, there may very likely come a day when a close up glimpse of her will be a thing resigned purely to memory. But the film also has a larger agenda: the visceral depiction of our insatiable desire to be closer to nature, to see and feel its awesome, sometimes ineffable power up close.

Though just over two minutes long, the trailer does offer one significant clue as to why this is not the typical wildlife documentary: humor. In an amusing scene the camera focuses on a pair of locals, who joke about Munier and Tesson getting too close to a family of bears, and somehow escaping without being “gobbled up.” Or maybe they’re not joking?

The Velvet Queen is also decisively elevated above its genre by way of its uniquely evocative soundtrack, courtesy of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. The iconoclastic composers don’t just attempt to set a mood, but to imbue the proceedings with something as haunting, and as primal as man’s relationship to nature itself, in all its complexity. And considering the unceasing battle with mortality that has characterized the last twenty-one months, rarely has that been so keenly felt.

The Velvet Queen opens Wednesday, December 22 in New York (Film Forum) and Los Angeles (Laemmle Royal), followed by a wide release.

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