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The Fifth Season (Peter Brosens & Jessica Woodworth, 2012)

September 17, 2012

The fifth season is the one that lasts for a year. It’s the perpetual winter. When the plants refuse to grow and even the colours fade away.

The last chapter of an ideal trilogy about the relationship between man and nature, La Cinquiéme Saison is a great improvement in comparison with the previous movies by Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth. Khadak (2006), shot in Mongolia, and Altiplano (2009), shot in the Andes, suffered from an uncertain style, torn between an anthropological approach, a traditional narrative and a contemplative style. These three elements weren’t mixed well together, and the result was confusing, redundant, without direction. Maybe it’s because La Cinquiéme Saison has been shot in their country of origin, Belgium, that it appears so firm, rigorous. The minimalist approach allows the directors to focus both on the visual and the narrative aspect, creating a visual masterpiece with enormous visual strength and a plot that, despite the abused theme of nature versus man, delivers the directors’ opinion without being blatant or rhetoric, as was the case with the previous films.

What at first appears to be a joyful celebration of the end of winter in an isolated village will soon turn into an apocalyptic nightmare. The puppet that represents winter, made out of twigs, won’t catch fire during the rite. The purgatory fire that will dispel winter to welcome spring can’t be set. It’s just the beginning of the end. Bees disappears, seeds won’t grow, cows won’t give milk anymore. Season after season, while hope slowly fades away, as snow keeps falling during summer and insects are the only edible thing left. What is most terrifying is what the viewer can’t see. Why everyone remains in the village? Why everyone calmly accept their doomed faith? It’s hinted that, probably, outside of the village, the situation is even worse. Worse than what are we seeing. The disturbing stillness that permeates the village will not last long.

Who’s the protagonist, the people or nature itself? Brosens and Woodworth focus on both. There’s Alice (Aurélia Poirier) and Thomas (Django Schrevens), two teenagers, maybe in love, or maybe not. There’s Pol (Sam Louwyck), the itinerant beekeeper and his handicapped son Octave (Gill Vancompernolle), and there’s the rest of the families and individuals that compose the reclusive village that once seemed to be idyllic. Apparently, the camera follows them, but it often continues its path, leaving the humans out of the picture, to follow the dying nature surrounding them. The visual richness is also given by the supremacy of the camera itself, that shoots from a wide variety of angles, as if able to catch every moment given. The characters are often seen from a high angle, resulting in a crushing perspective that makes them even more fragile.

The choice of limiting the dialogues to the essential helps creating a mesmerizing atmosphere, where every scene turns into a tableaux, and despite the pale palette chosen, the colours burst on the screen. The atmosphere resembles those of Béla Tarr’s movies, especially his last, The Turin Horse. The sense of impending doom, men forced to their limits, the crude consequences of human nature. Behind the stunning aesthetics, there’s also a strong plot, that proceeds on his character’s feelings rather than a classical narrative plot. We see results, not causes. Where most critics see a lack of narrative structure, I see a way to challenge the viewer, bound to partake in the stream of events. Not that it’s hard to follow what happens on the screen, it’s just that, for once, the viewer is not considered stupid. There are no useless dialogues that describes what we already have seen, or that explain what the movie should mean, a thing that happened instead on the previous works of Brosens and Woodworth. Music isn’t used as a way to describe what is happening on the screen, but participate along with the other elements to create scenes of high impact.

One of my personal favourites of the entire year, if not of all time, La Cinquiéme Saison is a little masterpiece, achieved after uncertain works that,  anyhow, hinted the potential of this Belgian couple, that finally seems to have found his balance.

[all the stills were taken from the official site.]

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