In our urban lifestyles, sometimes it gets hectic and it’s very hard to keep that feeling of harmony and connection with the universe. These movies, none of them while preaching too hard, will help you do exactly that: some will show you a calm, soothing nature, meanwhile others a more violent and inhospitable one. All will keep you grounded exactly where you belong.
Beasts of the Southern Wild – (2012)
This not very famous movie, shot in 16 millimeters and debut film by director Benh Zeitlin, is absolutely the first movie it comes to my mind when I think about the meaning behind the concept of land as constitutional element of our being, as sense of belonging and root of the self. The main character Hushpuppy, played by an astonishing Quvenzhané Wallis, is indeed direct expression of the bayou, that region of navigable swamps, dense forests and stilt houses around the Mississippi river in Louisiana where she lives with her father Wink. On the background of this intricate and invisible world of the bayou, in this movie of epic scope that manages to be spiritual while remaining intimately connected to the textural reality of the earth, Hushpuppy lives and breathes and grows to become the King of the Southern Wild.
Xingu – (2012)
Presented at the Amazonas Film Festival of 2011, this movie was shot mostly in the Brazilian rainforest and in São Paulo. It’s the film adaptation of the true story of Orlando, Claudio and Leonardo Villas-Bôas, three brothers who joined an explorative expedition in the forest and then became activists in the 1940s for the indigenous people and their endangered rights on their homeland. The story has a bit of Dance with the Wolves on the scenery of the Amazonian jungle and it’s best enjoyed in its original language (the musical Brazilian Portuguese) with subtitles.
Embrace of the Serpent – (2015)
Also set in the jungles of South America and shot almost entirely in black and white, this movie deals with the progressive destruction of the forest and the disappearance of local tribes through the two travels of a German ethnographer and, a few decades later, an American botanist. Both of them are looking for a sacred plant called yakruna, which is meant to have healing powers, and are accompanied in their journey by Karamakate, a shaman who is also the last living member of his tribe. On the sounds of lost indigenous languages in which the movie is spoken, such as ticuna and ocaina, the viewer grasps in all its intensity the endless dichotomy between traditions and progress, old and new, nature and technology.
Honeyland – (2019)
Presented to the Sundance Festival of 2019, this Macedonian documentary talks about an environmental issue many people ignore: the endangerment of bees and the following decline of pollination, essential to our planet. The movie follows the life and obstacles of Hatidže, beekeeper of wild bees in the isolated village of Bekirlija, Macedonia. Hatidže, that tends to her hives with ancient techniques passed along the generations for decades, has to deal with the arrival in her town of an ill-tempered newcomer, Hussein Sam, who is blinded by the logics of earning and profit and consequently breaks the first rule of wild beekeeping (taking just half of the honey to sell and leaving the rest to the bees). This movie is a heart-warming, caressing gem about the gilded world of bees: you can’t miss it.
The Revenant – (2015)
Much more known but quite underestimated, this movie depicts another very different environment: the one of endless forests and chilling cold. Shot by Alejandro Iñárritu in natural light in Montana (US) and Argentina, according to the crew (and Di Caprio as well) making this movie has been an incredibly hard experience, both for the creeping risk of hypothermia and Iñárritu’s high expectations. And indeed, while watching it from the comfortable couch of my home, I remember that constant feeling of cold climbing my limbs. The story is quite dark, and the film itself is too, with many scenes shot in the pale light of the moon.
Grizzly Man – (2005)
A little extra pearl for you guys: a not very famous documentary by the great director Werner Herzog that tells the story of Timothy Treadwell, who from 1990 to 2003 lived with and studied the grizzly bears and was ultimately killed by one of them. The documentary contains many hours of footage recorded by Treadwell himself in the early 2000s, some of them very touching (especially one where he prays for the rain in order to save the bears, starving for the drying of a salmon run). The movie explores the relationship between man and nature, the need of somehow getting closer to the more direct and filterless reality of animals (sometimes you wonder if Timothy actually believes he is a bear), and contains commentary on nature and conflict by Herzog himself.