SEA­SONS, doc­u­men­tary, rated PG, in French with sub­ti­tles, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3 chiles

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO -

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

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