The Congress Of Penguins

  • 1993
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Docudrama, Fantasy, Historical

This odd and often moving film from Switzerland depicts the past abuse of the creatures of Antarctica, as well as the apparently benevolent research by contemporary scientists and technicians. Directed and co-scripted by Hans-Ulrich Schlumpf, the first half of the film, as one wag observed, is a cross beween NIGHT AND FOG and a PBS National Geographic special. The...read more

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This odd and often moving film from Switzerland depicts the past abuse of the creatures of Antarctica, as well as the apparently benevolent research by contemporary scientists and technicians. Directed and co-scripted by Hans-Ulrich Schlumpf, the first half of the film, as one wag

observed, is a cross beween NIGHT AND FOG and a PBS National Geographic special.

The unseen narrator recalls a dream in which he is alone on an expanse of snow, with a horizon broken only by mesas of solid ice. Soon, the sound of animals is heard, followed by a procession of penguins who march single file towards the open sea. As the narrator listens to them, the seemingly

nonsensical word, Grytviken, is all he can make out. We soon discover, however that Grytviken is a place in the South Georgia Islands. Seen today, it is a rusted and derelict factory with a harbor occupied by listing hulks. A 1930 newsreel shows the town at its productive height, as a whaling

station, where the hunted mammals were skinned, butchered, and processed. Schlumpf uses older footage to explain the grim purposes of rusty cables and weather-beaten chutes, bulky boilers and rotten slipways. The German newsreel declaims in stentorian tone the many uses of the "docile colossi"

whose oil can be used for explosives, perfume and machine-guns. But there is one more distasteful horror Schlumpf has reserved for his audience: penguins, whose sleek downy fur and fat protect them from the cold and give them their characteristic look, were perfect for stoking the furnances that

rendered the whale blubber.

On his knees before the assembled penguins, the narrator begs for forgiveness. Their grim verdict is interrupted with scenes of scientific activity and equipment both aboard an oceanographic icebreaker from Germany and at a base where the atmosphere and ice samples are studied. The researchers and

technicians seem a far cry from the Norwegian sailors and harpooners shown teasing the animals in the shallows off Grytviken, but Schlumpf suggests there is not so great a disparity. They leave behind mountains of rubbish, not to mention abandoned housing, and there is one highly ironic shot of

people cavorting on internal-combustion-powered vehicles. At the same time, their work focuses on the ozone layer and the effects of pollution. The assembled penguins, Schlumpf's narrator tells us, have already reached their decision.

The three species of penguins shown also provide comic relief as they waddle or slide on their bellies towards their gathering, play along the water's edge and literally fly out of the sea. Both the unsurpassable beauty and the danger of this world are featured in the film, including a visual

reference to the 1948 Ealing feature, SCOTT OF THE ANTARCTIC. The film's criticism of today's human visitors is strained, but its first half remains a remarkable example of surreal strength.(Adult situations.)

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  • Released: 1993
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: This odd and often moving film from Switzerland depicts the past abuse of the creatures of Antarctica, as well as the apparently benevolent research by contemporary scientists and technicians. Directed and co-scripted by Hans-Ulrich Schlumpf, the first hal… (more)

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