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Film Review: Ice and the Sky

What Claude Lorius’ Incredible Life Can Teach Us All

by Alberto Sclaverano for Citiplat

Selected to close the 2015 edition of the Cannes film festival, Luc Jacquet’s Ice and the Sky (2015, original French titled La Glace et le Ciel) is a documentary about the extraordinary life of recently deceased French glaciologist Claude Lorius (1932-2023). Jacquet is a former French biologist turned filmmaker since the early 2000s. He started making movies and documentaries for French television but soon gained international popularity with his acclaimed 2005 documentary March of the Penguins which depicted the yearly harsh journey of penguins through Antarctica. It was a success both critically and commercially and won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2006. His other internationally known feature is the 2007 fable-like drama The Fox and the Child, which told the story of the friendship between a young girl and a fox through the years.

With Ice and the Sky Jacquet is back to the documentary style, which is where he can do his best. The film is a biography of Claude Lorius, but also a warning about the risk of ignoring the climate crisis. Lorius was among the most prominent world glaciologists and experts on polar ice caps and Antarctica. After taking part in a scientific expedition to the South Pole when he was very young, Lorius would have visited the continent several more times, participating in twenty-two polar expeditions since 1957. The movie chronicles Lorius’ adventurous life through various images, which include old footage and scenes of today’s Antarctica. Lorius himself took part in the realization of the documentary. He speaks about the most important facts of his life and makes several considerations on the current climate crisis.

Ice and the Sky is not only a biography of an eminent scientist and explorer. It is first and foremost a movie about the consequences of climate change. Since his first expeditions, Lorius remembers taking an interest in the raising temperature in Antarctica and the risk of the melting of the ice cap. He became soon convinced of the great magnitude of the danger the world was facing. He foresaw it earlier thanks to his love and knowledge of Antarctica, one of the places where the signs of the incoming catastrophe first appeared. Thus, Lorius became a climate activist as early as the 1960s. As the documentary shows us, at the beginning the debate was about the anthropogenic nature of climate change, and the scientific community, today almost universally unified on this subject, was divided. Lorius took immediately the side of the ones who believed that climate change was human generated and that a rise in global temperature with devasting effects due to humankind activity was happening. He took part in several debates and contributed to the victory of the position that recognized climate change as an existential crisis.

Several decades have now passed, and the old Lorius continues denouncing the risk of not acting to block the climate crisis. Today the problem is not the academic debate, but the politicians that, especially in the Western world, sometimes take openly denialist positions. Lorius feared that if we refused to intervene, the world, not only his beloved Antarctica, would have been overwhelmed by a climate disaster. Now that we can tragically see the consequences of climate change every day Lorius’s testimony is even more important. This is a movie with clearly angiographic elements in the portrayal of his main character, it does not matter. Ice and the Sky gave us all, and especially the youngest, the opportunity of listening to the voice of a great scientist who lived across the majority of “The Short Twentieth Century”, and yet foresaw best than others the risks and the challenges that humankind would have to tackle in the XXI. Lorius recently passed away at the age of 91.


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