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SEASONS (2016) review

December 2, 2016

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written by: Stephane Durand, Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud
produced by: Nicholas Elghozi, Romaine Le Grand and Jacques Perrin
directed by: Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud
rated: PG (for thematic images and related images)
runtime: 97 min.
U.S. release date: November 25, 2016 (limited) and December 2, 2016 (Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL)

 

French Filmmakers Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud took flight with “Winged Migration” and plunged into “Oceans”, providing viewers with fascinating and contemplative meditations on nature and now they stay grounded with “Seasons”, by studying the history and beauty of the European landscape. Into the woods the directors take us, delving “20,000 years into the history of the wild animals” of Europe and the lush post-Ice Age green forests, showcasing the cycle of seasons and the various creatures who endured them. This film, which was produced and partially narrated by Perrin, who co-directed and co-wrote with Cluzaud, is more than just a “nature documentary”, it’s an exceptional look at awe-inspiring wild life and a thought-provoking consideration of how man was integrated itself into their world. While viewing, I found myself wondering “How did that get made?” at least a dozen times. 

“Seasons” reminded me how much we take for granted nature photography. There’s a plethora of nature shows (and channels) on TV and Disney has done a stellar job at reinvigorating their nature films in recent years, so we come to expect footage that is well-shot, along with a celebrity narrator to accompany it, at times. Oh, you may not feel like you take for granted what it takes to film nature, specifically animals in their element, but watching “Seasons” makes you rethink your stance, for sure. This is not only a gorgeously shot film about nature, it also looks at the gradual albeit gradual human influence that came after thousands of years where the wild ruled, with a concern for environmental threat man poses on these animals and the air, water and land of their environment.

 

Tournage Galatée films - Les Saisons - Réalisation Jacques PERRIN et Jacques CLUZAUD. Séquence des Loups - Foret de Chantilly

 

Humans factor in later on in “Seasons”, but the focus is on the circle of life, which is candidly captured in an extraordinary manner. Nothing feels staged, although there is definitely a theatrical quality to what we see from the animals (some of them literally feel like trained actors) and the way in which the cameras are placed to deliver a seamless narrative approach. That immersive and observational narrative is felt throughout the film, which feels less like a documentary as the film progresses. Clearly, there is a story being told here, as we see actors dressed in the loincloths of early man roam the forests, yet the camera is still looking at these human figures in much the same way you’d imagine the animals see them. Both species are curious of each other, yet will see later on which one truly is the threat.

When the film focuses on the animals, there is both a serene peace and nail-biting intensity present. The stars of the film – all the birds, rodents, elk, buffalos, bears, boars and wolves – are found foraging for food and hunting for or seeking shelter from prey, which is what you’d expect, but the proximity here is astounding. I was aghast at scene showing a couple of grown brown bears violently lay into each other in a meadow, claws and all. There’s an incredible tracking shot that follows a boar on the run from a pack of wolves in the forest, which becomes one of the best action sequences I’ve seen all year. A scene that meticulously follows a bobcat pursuing a young fox pup is fascinating, with the camera literally going inside the rotted tree log the foxes are hiding. Early on, there’s also a moment that captures the birth of a fawn that feels straight out of “Bambi” – as if a live-action update to the Disney classic had been made (not hard to imagine that, nowadays), where a fawn is being born in the woods and animals in the trees above are reacting to the momentous occasion. Sure, it seems purposefully edited, but it’s also a moment I will never forget. It’s all  jaw-dropping to behold and mind-boggling to comprehend how these scenes were filmed.

 

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000 - Repérages Roumanie

 

As the title suggests, “Seasons” sets out to show viewers how all four seasons changes the land, but with the film showing both birth and death, we’re shown the inevitable seasons of life also. Perrin and Cluzaud concern themselves with creatures that often go unnoticed too. There offer up-close and tracking shots of flying beetles and adorable hedgehogs who must be ever vigilant if they are to survive the roads that man begin to create. As much as “Seasons” captures the animals in their habitat, it’s easy to see what will happen once man is introduced – deforestation, agricultural growth as well as extermination and pollution, all things that are mostly just good for mankind only. If anything, I found myself all the more impressed at the survival instincts of the animal kingdom.

It might be a bit frustrating for viewers how “Seasons” (titled “Les Saisons” in French) isn’t concerned with specific locations or identified which species is which, but it’s understandable in keeping with its poetic observance. Perrin and Cluzaud shot their footage in France, Poland, Norway, Romania, Scotland and Italy, following the seasons over several years, using a variety of cameras and techniques. It makes me want to see a documentary just on the making of the film. The two Jacques present an illuminating film that offers artful introspection and an eye-opening reminder of our impact on the world.

 

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RATING: ***1/2

 

 

 

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