“It belongs to nobody and everybody,” a Greenpeace spokesperson observes of Antarctica, amid a number of awed talking-head statements on the outset of “Sanctuary.” It’s a real sufficient statement of the southernmost continent, although it opens up the query driving Álvaro Longoria’s brief, simple environmental documentary: If the unpopulated ice kingdom is above human possession, who takes duty for safeguarding it? Enter Spanish star Javier Bardem, fortunately not moving into the breach as a self-appointed eco-warrior, however as a essentially well-known figurehead for a bigger, much less glamorous conservationist motion. That “Sanctuary” is modestly pragmatic reasonably than fawning concerning the perform of celebrities in environmental activism is its most interesting and intriguing facet, although it stops in need of a deeper inquiry into the PR mechanics of saving the world.
For probably the most half, reasonably, Longoria’s movie — produced in collaboration with Greenpeace, for which it successfully serves as an prolonged public service announcement — is a pleasantly standard instructional train, making its drier scientific truths palatable with sweeping Antarctic surroundings and copious penguin-related cuteness, plus the rugged charisma of Bardem himself, serving as each the undertaking’s stern, honest narrator and its layman explorer. Centered particularly on an ongoing Greenpeace marketing campaign to ascertain a protecting marine sanctuary within the Weddell Sea — probably the world’s largest such endeavor, protecting an space of over 1.1 million sq. miles — “Sanctuary” oscillates between rapt wonderment on the area’s daunting pure magnificence and weary cynicism over the bureaucratic purple tape constantly negotiated by non-celebrity activists.
At simply 74 minutes, the movie hardly has time to comply with both of those tonal impulses to particularly complicated ends: There’s quite a lot of plainly simplified science and reportage right here, together with enticing Nationwide Geographic-style footage that not often reaches for David Attenborough-level spectacle. Its brevity and digestibility make it well-suited to a VOD launch through Amazon Prime, the place it ought to domesticate a conscientious housebound viewers; although it premiered quietly on the autumn competition circuit final yr, it isn’t a documentary that feels wedded to the large display.
Utilizing a mix of newscast-style interviews and extra fluid video-diary footage, “Sanctuary” covers a fraught yr within the lifetime of the Weddell Sea marketing campaign, starting with the attachment of Bardem — collectively together with his brother Carlos, who additionally serves because the movie’s producer and co-writer — to the trigger in late 2017. He, and in flip we, are given a swift bullet-point schooling in a biodiverse panorama endangered by interconnected elements starting from local weather change to industrial fishing. Greenpeace launches a petition in favor of the proposed sanctuary, searching for 1.eight million signatures from the general public; as Bardem lends it his promotional and social media clout, onscreen graphics observe the surging tally over the months.
Although a collective of Greenpeace activists — notably Swedish undertaking chief Frida Bengtsson — is afforded substantial screentime, the majority of the movie is understandably dedicated to the Bardem brothers’ personal Antarctic go to; “Sanctuary” duly adopts its star-narrator’s sweetly astonished, impassioned perspective as Fabio Nascimento’s digital camera luxuriantly gazes upon fuzzy flocks of penguins (Bardem’s favourite animal, we’re instructed) and joins, within the movie’s flashiest setpiece, a submarine cruise over the psychedelically populated ocean flooring, as wealthy in translucent sweet hues because the land above is pristinely diamond-white.
This sort of can’t-lose footage is cash in Longoria’s pocket, contributing to a mid-film excessive that may’t assist however be deflated by political obstacles far-off from the icy southern deep. Followers of environmental information headlines will already know that the movie’s narrative climax, the place the sanctuary proposal goes earlier than the multinational Conference for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Dwelling Sources in late 2018, doesn’t allow the euphoric completely satisfied ending that the filmmakers would have hoped for. As a substitute, “Sanctuary” ends on a solemn, bittersweet notice, noting that environmental activism is a battle by which extra battles are misplaced than received: Advocates must be in it for the lengthy haul in the event that they’re to see any glory. Right here’s hoping Bardem is up for a sequel.