SXSW 2013: ‘The Fifth Season’ is a sparse and dark film about an endless winter

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FifthSeason-thumb-300xauto-33226La Cinquième Saison (The Fifth Season)
Directed by Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth
Written by Peter Brosens, Jessica Woodworth
France, 2012

Time is wholly a human construct. While other organisms simply accept the effect of moving time, humans feel the need to perceive and measure its passing. The seasons are an extension of human need to compartmentalize. For farmers, they use the changing seasons to decide when and what type of crops to plant. Story tellers and myth makers take seasons and wrap them in symbolism, giving arbitrary divisions a cultural meaning. The Fifth Season tackles the effects of the absence of human conventions and its effect on humanity as a whole.

The film follows a French village and it’s various inhabitants near the end of winter. There are healthy social interactions and solidarity as shown by the villagers’ festivities towards the end of winter. To welcome the coming of spring, the village holds a festival filled with synchronized dances and the burning of an winter effigy. However, winter does not end. It stagnates through the year; nature refuses to cycle and move on and with it the villagers. Throughout the film, the villagers steadily but surely start a descent into madness fueled by superstition, desperation, and frustration. They go from blessing trees to eventually forming a superstitious cabal intent on human sacrifice as the final solution. In between, the film also centers on various characters such as the three children Alice (Aurélia Poirier), Thomas (Django Schrevens), and Octave (Gill Vancompernolle) as they deal with growing up (or attempting to) in world that refuses to move forward.

la-cinquieme-saison

Brosens does a brilliant job of setting up bleak tableaus for his characters to interact in. There is limited camera movement, creating self contained panoramas–little stories of each villager’s increasing desperation. When there is a cut, it is a biting transition from scene to scene. Things are broken up by intermittent shots of the cold landscape as a sort of palette cleanser, underscored by an intense and operatic score.

Viewers looking for a film that gives a great sense of development and story will find this film lacking. The thematic core of this film is in stagnation and devolution. It is inherent in the characters’ descent as well as the styles of the film itself. Not much happens throughout the film because the characters, much like every human, is so entirely dependent on the natural forces around them and their attachment to constructs such as time and seasons, that when devoid of it all, they are incapable of functioning. The film is a sparse and darkly surreal examination of behavior in the face of nature and devoid of human constructs.

– David Tran

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