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Imagine if Roland Emmerich had directed an episode of Storm Chasers, and you’ll get a vague idea of what it’s like to sit through Hurricane (Ouragan), an eye-popping stereoscopic exploration into the heart of a tropical cyclone as it wreaks havoc over several Caribbean islands and parts of the American south.
Shot in 12 countries over four years by the trio of Cyril Barbancon (serving as d.p.), Jacqueline Farmer (credited as producer) and Andy Byatt (BBC’s Planet Earth), this globetrotting documentary literally plunges the viewer underwater and straight into 200 kilometers per hour winds to track the turbulent path of a fictional hurricane (named “Lucy”) that begins its life on African shores and ends it somewhere in the U.S., leaving considerable damage in its wake. Featuring some of the most startling natural images in recent memory, the Franco-Belgian co-production, which opened this year’s International Environmental Film Festival in Paris, will be released in 2D, 3D and Imax formats, and deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.
Capturing Lucy’s emergence across the Atlantic as she transforms from a sandstorm in Senegal to a Category 4 hurricane erupting onto the shores of Puerto Rico, the filmmakers utilize every imaginable angle — from a satellite’s viewpoint in space to the miniscule struggles of an ant colony — to depict the typhoon’s destructive journey over land, air and sea. (Per the press notes, Lucy is in fact an amalgam of 12 hurricanes that the crew shot and cut together to recreate a single storm cycle.)
Entire forests are uprooted, villages are demolished and local wildlife either washed away or, if lucky, put into safe shelter — one memorable scene has a flock of flamingos stored in a tiny Cuban bathroom; another shows cows escaping the flooding by waiting on a country porch in Louisiana — until Lucy heads on to her next victim, eventually losing momentum as she blows through New Orleans and points north.
Barbancon and his team certainly required lots of heavy gear (including all the 3D rigs) plus a fair amount of raincoats to shoot the various tempests without getting blown away themselves, and Hurricane is most impressive when the directors remain planted in one position as the world around them is torn apart by the wind and rain. One particularly breathtaking sequence, filmed on an evacuated street at night, reveals the sheer force of a downpour that hits the ground like sheets of steel, to the point that it looks more like a computer-generated disaster than the real thing.
The action is peppered with commentary by weather experts and storm survivors, while a voiceover — freely inspired by the Victor Hugo text “La Mer et Le Vent” and read by actress Romane Bohringer (Total Eclipse) — tries to add a poetic side to the proceedings but doesn’t seem necessary, especially with so many potent images that speak for themselves.
Editors Luc Plantier and Philippe Ravoet do a great job taking viewers from the macro to the micro, and from devastation to rebirth, as Lucy’s long and destructive voyage is ultimately shown to be part of the natural order of things. A soothing score by Yann Tiersen (Amelie) is dwarfed by all the sounds of crashing thunder, breaking waves and broken homes.
Production companies: Ouragan Films, Orange Studio, Climax Films, Saint Thomas Productions
Directors: Cyril Barbancon, Andy Byatt, Jacqueline Farmer
Screenwriters: Frederique Zepter, Philippe Blasband, Olivier Lorelle
Producer: Jacqueline Farmer
Executive producer: Jean-Yves Asselin
Director of photography: Cyril Barbancon
Editors: Luc Plantier, Philippe Ravoet
Composer: Yann Tiersen
In, English, Spanish, French
Not rated, 83 minutes
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