We would have a forest that was beautifully complex and simple all at once. Mindaugas Survila’s masterpiece The Ancient Woods documents one of Lithuania’s old-growth forests. He took ten years to make the film, and the lyrical effect shows off the director’s degrees in Natural Sciences from Vilnius University.
This is what he and his apparently huge and patient film crew did: they left time-capture cameras at exactly the right locations throughout the land, supplemented by a bit of hand-held tracking, and caught it all. All the animals, birds, reptiles and insects you have probably never seen before, that being Lithuania and this the U.S., with an incredible degree of intimacy. A black stork? Who knew?
It’s magical. There are some crazy looking birds going at it with each other, clack-clacking their beaks together, chasing each other. Is it war or mating? There is no intrusive voiceover a la Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom to interrupt your own interpretation of events, just the haunting sounds of wind and birdsong as a backdrop. This is a Zen, meditative, poetic piece.
A silver-black snake charges a hapless mouse several times and misses, and we see the denouement as the snake drags the mouse carcass away. Only to be glimpsed in a later scene having undergone the same brutal fate, its limp scaly body being drained by wasps.
Baby owls peep plaintively from their tree hollow, and we wait restlessly with them until we finally see the magnificent mother swoop up to her family, this in slow motion, wings like brown waving flags.
And the stag king of the forest passes by in shadow, his antlers wreathed with vines, bellowing. Now that’s a movie I’d like to see again. In fact, I did.