The Seasons In Quincy


Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Seasons In Quincy
"The combination allows for fascinating interplay of concerns."

Author, artist, self-declared storyteller John Berger is the focus of the intricately woven strands that make up The Seasons In Quincy: Four Portraits Of John Berger. Produced by the Derek Jarman Lab as a quartet of individual film essays, directed by Tilda Swinton, Christopher Roth, Bartek Dziadosz, and Colin MacCabe, the combination allows for fascinating interplay of concerns. Quincy, the small mountain village in the Haute-Savoie where Berger spent 40 years of his life, is the second protagonist of the film.

Tilda reads his poem Self-portrait 1914-18. "I was born of the look of the dead - Swaddled in mustard gas - And fed in a dugout." We are never born the year of our birth. Berger the storyteller, knows that it's important to "identify stories good for the reader's health."

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In the first part, called Ways Of Listening, we join Tilda and Berger in his rural kitchen. It is the week before Christmas 2010 and while she is peeling apples, Berger draws her portrait and they talk - about fruit and their fathers who both remained silent about their war experiences. Berger, born in 1926 (on the same date as Swinton in 1960, November 5) remembers that when he was a toddler, his father for breakfast would "take an apple, cut it into quarters and then peel it," before feeding a piece to baby John.

The storytelling becomes a manual for Tilda as she continues to listen, hearing about the infantry officer in the trenches of the Western Front of WWI, and offers stories of her own father who lost a leg fighting in WWII and never referred to the injury. A shared birthday, a silent soldier father - bonding works in many forms. There is almost too much to see and hear at once.

There's Berger's wife Beverly coming into the kitchen, the kitchen itself is packed with interesting objects, the stories are textured, the subjects are self-conscious in front of the obvious camera at one moment and forget about it the next, plus, as a byproduct, Berger creates a drawing and Swinton an enormous apple crumble, lemony and hot.

Part two, Spring, directed by Christopher Roth, is not what it started out as. Due to the death of Berger's wife, everything is different. A film about politics becomes a film about animals. "Each lion was lion, each ox was ox," Berger narrates. He had written extensively about our relationship to animals and Roth, likely inspired by Godard, mixes from different sources. Why look at animals? plays a part and Jacques Derrida, surprised by his cat ("I have trouble at bedtime …"), gets a mention with his concept of "animot" to remind us of the complex relationship to human beings.

The third part, directed by Colin MacCabe, A Song for Politics, unfolds around a discussion between Berger, MacCabe, and Roth, joined by writers Akshi Singh and Ben Lerner. Does the political right have contemporary stories to tell? They ask about nostalgia, commitment, community and Berger stuns them with his comment about monotheistic religions' Heaven and Hell. "It's in Hell where solidarity is important, not in Heaven." They stop talking. For a moment everybody is speechless. Then MacCabe cuts to something else.

Harvest, the final chapter, follows Swinton's children on a visit to Berger's son and granddaughter in Quincy. The next generation, in the spirit of renewal steeped in the past, encounter farm life, Scottish eggs and clapping games with glasses. They dye saffron yellow candles and eat raspberries in honour of Beverly.

Redcurrants, bees, a beautiful black and white snail and a motorcycle ride make Berger's world our own for instances that might last an eternity.

In honor of John Berger, who died in Paris on January 2, 2017, the Glasgow Film Festival will host the Scottish premiere of the film on February 24.

Reviewed on: 06 Feb 2017
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The Seasons In Quincy packshot
Four film essays about the much loved artist and storyteller.
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Director: Bartek Dziadosz, Colin MacCabe

Writer: Ben Lerner, Tilda Swinton

Starring: John Berger, Tilda Swinton

Year: 2016

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: UK


Glasgow 2017
BIFF 2016

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