Seasons

***1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Seasons
"For anyone who has seen the pair's previous work it will go without saying that the cinematography here is superb."

Made by the creators of Winged Migration and Oceans, Seasons has been assumed by many to be part of a series, an ecological essay on the plight of land animals, but to sum it up this way seems crude at best. Never mind the fact that birds are also present here; the very framework of the film calls into question the notion of series as linear constructions whose constituent parts are defined by what has gone before. The twin narratives present in this tale illustrate opposing notions of time and, where they intersect, demonstrates that there is always room for something new, something unexpected.

If that sounds unnervingly complex, don't be deterred. There's plenty here to entrance all kinds of viewers, from aging academics to wide-eyed four year olds. Exploring the ancient forests that once covered most of the Earth, Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud take us in at ground level, moving through the undergrowth, seeing what there is to be seen. There's no artifice to this; they rejected zoom lenses and took on everything up close and personal. It's a technique that exposes them to danger, moving alongside brawling bears or coming face to face with a prowling stag, but it's also a technique that has evidently required them to build up trust with the animals they encounter - not just by winning over individuals but by learning to move and sound like the native inhabitants of the woodland. Although we don't see them directly, only hearing their voiceover, this folds their own story into the larger tale.

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At its largest, this is the story of the forests - of how they sprang up as the last Ice Age receded, and of how, eventually, they fell back under pressure from a new species - humans, using agriculture where before them wolves had used teeth and lynxes claws. In this context, the title hints at a greater cycle, of which we can perhaps see only part, and one is reminded of Brian Aldiss' take on ice ages. The unknowability of such a great cycle,however, thrusts forward the modern human notion of linear time, standing in contrast to the cyclical time of the title's more literal interpretation. Here we see thousands of springs, summers, autumns and winters compressed into a story that is also set within a single day, carrying us from morning into day, night, and a new dawn. The lives of the animals and plants are also cyclical, carrying them through from birth and notably cute first explorations of the world to reproduction and, in time, death. The latter, though often savage in nature, is carefully presented, maintaining that all-ages accessibility. This is perhaps one of the film's greatest weaknesses, because it can make the subtler violence of the humans seem out of proportion to what has gone before when it is arguably just the same thing, but more effective. As a result, the filmmakers risk being dismissed as propagandists, their more sophisticated ideas lost.

For anyone who has seen the pair's previous work it will go without saying that the cinematography here is superb. The presence of humans emerges at an appropriately late stage, and the film makes its strongest point by showing how unnecessary they are to holding the viewer's attention. Nothing seems lacking about the earlier world. Lush and intriguing whatever the season, it is further enlivened by a brilliant landscape of ambient sound reminiscent of that in Homo Sapiens but much richer. It is this, more than anything, that gives the film its power; it is the immersiveness of the whole that makes it a joy to watch.

Reviewed on: 22 Jan 2017
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The history of the forests, from the Ice Age to the dawn of humankind.

Director: Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud

Writer: Jacques Cluzaud, Stéphane Durand, Jacques Perrin

Year: 2015

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: France, Germany

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