Not the 1990 IMAX outer-space documentary short Blue Planet, but an influential 1981 Italian experimental feature, this Blue Planet is a real moviemaker's movie. Filmmaker Franco Piavoli's non-narrative sweep of nature, life and the seasons inspired a host of directors like Godfrey Reggio, Andrei Tarkovsky and Ermanno Olmi; admirer Reggio's similar non-narrative film Koyaanisqatsi came out the following year. Mostly seen internationally at festivals in its time, Blue Planet belatedly gets its first significant North American distribution with this slightly late 25th-anniversary release. After making its New York City premiere, it's scheduled to roll out to locales including San Francisco, Denver, Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon.
A hypnotic head movie in its early scenes of barren winter rocks and ground, Blue Planet draws you in slowly. Abrupt shifts in scale, from aerial to ground level, keep you initially off-balance; at times it's impossible to tell if we're gazing at the Earth from the sky or from a few inches above the ground. Air bubbles under the ice look like alien blobs. Then warmth and spring encroach. Ice melts; water runs. Soon the natural sounds of water and wind give way to distant thunder and life-giving rain. There's mold and catfish, snails and small children. In ultra-discreet ultra-closeup, with the barest of sounds, a couple has sex in a field, biologically mimicking the mating rituals of the insects and animals around them—our roommates in the world.
Nature also shares the world with our agriculture and industry, as Piavoli's eye turns from hand-cranked tools to combustion-engine threshers. Men and women work and weep. Geese waddle across dirt courtyards. An unmoving camera, fixed at a small distance from a two-family house, records people young and old scurrying about their evening rituals, as oblivious and anonymous as amoebas.
In the scheme of things, Piavoli seems to be saying, we humans are no more than one more animal among the hundreds of thousands on Earth. Night and fog come, the day ends, the cycle of nature goes on and on, with us humans or without. The planet doesn't need us. We need the planet.
After this first feature, Piavoli went on to create a handful of such celluloid odes to Earth, most recently 2002's At the First Breath of Wind. Filling out the bill is a 12-minute Piavoli documentary short, Evasi (1964), which captures the expressions of individuals in the stands at some sporting or other event that we never see—he's interested in the sights and sounds of human reaction, and the specifics of what they're watching is beside the point.