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A shot from the film La Glace et le Ciel (trans. The Ice and the Sky), which premiered at Cannes on Sunday night and chronicles the life and scientific discoveries of French climatologist Claude Lorius. (Image: La Glace et le Ciel)

After Lifetime of Discoveries, Climatologist Asks: 'Now That You Know, What Will You Do?'

New documentary exploring life and work of key scientist premieres at Cannes and challenges humanity to respond to perils of dangerously warming planet

Jon Queally

Though all the awards had been announced and a week of celebrity sightings and red carpet fanfare was nearly complete, the final word at the Cannes Film Festival on Sunday night was not from a famous actor, producer or director but from an octogenerian French glaciologist who in a documentary film about his life exploring the icy depths of the Antarctica issued a stark—yet hopeful—plea to humanity over the perils of planetary climate change.

Offered the closing spot at the festival, the film La Glace et le Ciel (The Ice and the Sky) chronicles the life and scientific discoveries of Claude Lorius, one of the pioneers of climate science who realized that locked with the ancient ice below the frozen lanscapes of Antartica, was the Earth's atmospheric climate record dating back hundreds of thousands of years. Directed by Luc Jacquet, maker of the 2005 Oscar-winner March of the Pengiuns, the film follows Lorius from his first expeditions in the late 1950s to his most recent revelations concerning the fate of the planet and its people.

According to Reuters' review, the film makes clear "that the earth is warming up faster than it has in hundreds of millennia," and Lorius himself ends the film by challenging its viewers, "Now that you know, what will you do?"

Watch the official trailer [in French]:

As the Guardian's Adam Pulver writes:

Jacquet presents his film very much as a head-on challenge to climate change deniers: by simply talking us through Lorius’s career, and the progress of his work, we understand the methodical processes by which he came to his conclusions. Essentially, it’s a rebuttal to background-noise deniers’ complaints about flawed science: Lorius says what he found, and what it means, with calm, unflappable detachment. We are taken through the stages: Lorius’s first trip to Antarctica to study snow; the realisation that the ratio of “light” hydrogen atoms to “heavy” in each snowflake corresponds precisely to the ambient temperature of the day of the snowfall; then decision to take core samples to study the change in temperature over time. Jacquet decribes a rather entertaining eureka moment: when ancient ice is used for a celebratory whisky, Lorius realised the trapped air that escapes can be analysed too, for its gas content.

And the Hollywood Reporter adds:

The scientist’s biggest breakthrough was the fortunate discovery that the chemical composition of snow allowed him to calculate the exact temperature on the day it fell, which means that samples from thousands of years ago could be surveyed to get an idea of the rise and fall of temperatures over extended periods of time (the documentary shows samples up to 400,000 years old). He thus found proof for climatologists’ hypothesis that our planet went through hot and cold periods of about 100,000 years each, which in turn allowed him to prove that the rate of climate change over the last 100 years is not a normal variation in temperature, and must thus be caused by man.

Though a scientist first, Lorius is clearly a man who believes in peace between the nations, having led a Franco-U.S.-Soviet South Pole expedition at the height of the Cold War. With the help of Jacquet, the protagonist clearly hopes that this documentary will generate debate and, hopefully, change. Gorgeously choreographed shots, many of them filmed with the help of drones by outstanding cinematographer Stéphane Martin, show Lorius surveying the melting water of glaciers or the burning forests that are the result of climate change. Entirely wordless, they convey the idea that the beauty-filled natural world indeed seems to be slipping away from the old man who first suggested this would happen and who now worries about what kind of world his grandchildren will be living in.

This short offers additional footage of Lorius and includes English subtitles:

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