SEASONS, documentary, rated PG, in French with subtitles, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3 chiles
From its opening shots of elk and oxen huddled against icy winds and snow, indistinguishable in their stillness from outcroppings of rock, co-directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud’s documentary feature stakes a claim to unforgettable wildlife footage. You should expect as much from the team that made the Oscar-nominated Winged Migration (2001). Seasons is a documentary of another sort — as much about humankind as it is about animals and the seasons that dictate the rhythms of their lives. Here, “seasons” are considered within the scope and context of millennia. But the filmmakers take their time getting to the point, which is the devastating impact of humanity on animal populations and environments. That slow pace succeeds by heightening the contrast between the dramatic and beautiful stories of migrations and survival, but it fails by leaving the viewer wondering if there’s a point to be made or if we’re merely along for the safari.
The first half, nearly silent other than a fitting score by Bruno Coulais and a sporadic, unobtrusive narration, celebrates the diversity of Europe’s wildlife, which thrived after the last ice age until the rise of human populations made inexorable encroachments into their habitats. The footage is astonishing: a dramatic drawn-out fight between two massive bears; a solitary owl surveying a vast and desolate winter landscape; playful and industrious smaller mammals, such as foxes, hedgehogs, squirrels, and badgers; and the majesty of wild horses challenging one another for dominance of the herd. The badgers hunt the hedgehogs, a snake hunts a mouse for its dinner, and a fox pup seeks the safety of a hollow tree trunk to escape the interest of a curious and hungry lynx.
Filmed in the French Alps and the forests of Norway, Poland, and France, Seasons takes a poetic look at the affairs of animals and people, contrasting the beauty and fragility of nature with environments created by humans. The film derives its power from the visuals, not from data. There are no discussions of declining populations, complete with charts and graphs, facts and figures. Instead, Seasons offers solemn visceral juxtapositions: an elk hunted down and surrounded by hounds and men on horseback and a wild boar bearing witness to deforestation, green foliage disappearing under a noxious cloud of insecticide. In the face of the reckless advance of technology and industry, animal populations dwindle but endure. If Seasons offers anything in the way of hope, it’s in its recognition of the beauty of what we’ve lost already — and what we still stand to lose. — Michael Abatemarco
Grin and bear it