Marie Perennou calls Microcosmos "true tales," and talks of "rehabilitating the population of the grass." Her husband, Claude Nuridsany, asserts that "every bug has its own destiny." Not the kinds of sentiments you'd expect to hear from biologists. Nuridsany and Perennou, though, aren't your everyday eggheads. Twenty years ago, the couple found themselves getting fed up with the French Académie and the scientific search for truth. "When you are a researcher, you publish for other researchers," Perennou points out. "We wanted to break away from the scientific world and share our findings with others."
The two believe that there is more to understanding than the mere discovery of facts, that our emotions must be engaged also. So they turned to filmmaking, and a more aesthetically inclined representation of the world they study. Nuridsany explains, "We try to engage the imagination of the spectator. We tell the story of this world as if it were an opera, not simple biology. We are right in the middle of art and science; we put these two fields together -- people have a tendency to separate them."
Although Perennou admits that an overly imaginative treatment of the insect world could have led to them falling into the trap of humanizing their subjects, she maintains that there are unavoidable comparisons between their world and ours: "It's a strange world, but when you go along with the movie, you see that there is something from time to time that looks like our life." Watching these creatures go about the daily search for such necessities as food, shelter, and sexual partners, you'd have to agree with her.
Their experiences with the insects in Microcosmos led Nuridsany and Perennou to view them as individuals. Nuridsany says, "We show that this is a special grasshopper. They are not interchangeable. We used a lot of insects of the same species, like doubles in the movies. We noticed that there were some who were natural performers. For instance, with the ladybird taking off from the grass -- there was one ladybird who was a star, she always took off with a loop." Perennou, laughing, notes that "there were also some actors who were very -- sensitive."
Bugs, according to Nuridsany and Perennou, have for too long gotten a raw deal. "Give them their due," says Perennou. "Humankind is more cruel than insects." Nuridsany adds, "Insects are so often portrayed as little robots who are always killing each other, like science-fiction movies. To us they are like mythological creatures, creatures of great beauty. For instance, the mosquito rising like Venus out of the water."
When asked whether he would swat a mosquito that landed on his arm, perhaps the self-same "actor" that emerged so elegantly from the water, Nuridsany laughs and says, "Yes. We are human beings, after all."