Film Review: Land of the Bears (France, 2014)

land-bears

Alright, straight up, no word of a lie, Land of the Bears has got to be the cutest, most heart-warming, most excellent display of bears on screen outside an 87-point Buzzfeed post about cutesy bears. Why? Because it’s a beautifully shot documentary – that you can watch in 3D, thanks very much – about a group of majestic bears in Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula, who we follow over a period of 12 months from their winter hibernation, to their joyous summer “fishing” season and all the way back again.

Whilst this sounds about as exciting as a National Geographic programme from the 80s, it’s really so much more than that, thanks to the cinematography from director Guillaume Vincent. Vincent and his crew have managed to follow these bears around for a year in their natural habitat.

It’s an intimate look into the lives of these animals, from the young bear who experiences summer without the help of his mother for the first time, to the orphaned bear cubs stealing fish from other bears to the protective mamma bear who finds food for her cubs for most of the day before she stops to feed herself. All of this happens in beautiful Russian wilderness and never once does the narrator step out from behind the camera to coax a bear out of its natural habitat. The camera crew clearly knew how to make this as non-intrusive as possible, and the plan worked.

Watching Land of the Bears will remind you of a time when a documentary crew was only used for real documentaries like this, not dumbass reality shows that are scripted anyway. It’ll give you an insight into the natural environment. It’ll demonstrate that these bears are as linked to the ecosystem they live in as we are to our mobile devices (that remark was meant to make you feel bad). It’ll remind you that there is a world out there that is not about technology, social media, food trucks and whatever other modern-day invention we now vehemently believe to be necessities. Because in this documentary, the BEAR necessities (sorry) are as follows: come out of bitterly cold 8-month winter hibernation, defrost and find food, wait for salmon to swim upstream to the river in your ‘hood, fish and eat said salmon, enjoy lovely summer weather, eat more salmon to bulk up for winter, head back into the mountains to prepare your den for the winter months, hibernate through winter. Then procreate, lather, rinse, repeat, and the circle of life continues.

If you’re not a fan of nature documentaries, then you should be – think of Land of the Bears as a superior version of all the stupid “animals do the darndest things” YouTube clips. Puppies have a hard time going down a flight of stairs? Land of the Bears shows a bear cub struggling to come down from a tree. YouTubed a clip of a Labrador puppy frolicking in the grass? Land of the Bears follows a bear as he steps out into warm weather for the first time in a year, gleefully splashing around in the river and rolling around on the forest floor out of sheer excitement. Watched a Buzzfeed video of a snoring bulldog? Land of the Bears can beat that too – one of the bears farted on camera.

Not that this review is trying to trivialise the beauty of the subjects in this film, not at all. If anything Land of the Bears heightens the beauty of the bears because we are so used to seeing the trivial so often because it’s so accessible to us. But in this documentary, you not only get to see bears in their natural habitat, but you are also viewing them as if they were right there in front of you.

Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Land of the Bears open in Australia on September 25th in select cinemas in 3D.