La cinquième saison
starring Aurelia Poirier, Django Schrevens, Sam Louwyck, Gill Vancompernolle
written and directed by Peter Brosens & Jessica Woodworth
by Walter Chaw It begins as a puzzle, the active-engagement kind where a film, maybe an art film not very good and certainly not lacking in pretension, wears all the hopes of its creators on its sleeve. But then, out of nowhere, Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth's The Fifth Season (La cinquième saison) ties together all the pretty pictures into an entirely honourable updating of a few of the ideas from, but most importantly the atmosphere of, Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man. Truth be told, the pictures are more than just pretty: they're stunning at times, and it's easy to be mesmerized by them--by their surrealism and meticulous framing, and, at the end of it all, by their gorgeous absurdity. This is rapturous filmmaking that in its first minutes watches two teens kiss, tentatively, in the cold and the woods, their breath trembling the soft down on each other's faces. We feel, with them, the discovery of something new. The Fifth Season is a film about textures, but rather than just be a film about textures, it does something that maybe Terrence Malick's movies do, certainly Bela Tarr's: it makes its form comment on its function.
What is The Fifth Season about, after all, but the complexities--the textures--of human interaction? We meet a disabled boy, Octave (Gill Vancompernolle), and his father, Pol (Sam Louwyck), as they sing both parts of the "Papageno-Papagena" duet from The Magic Flute (another tale of elsewhere, and love lost). They are the first to notice the failure of the winter season to change--or change into the titular "fifth" season--via the disturbing death of their honeybees. It's a decomposition echoed in the slow-splintering relationship between young lovers Alice (Aurelia Poirier) and Thomas (Django Schrevens), a reverse of the expected that begins with the first kiss and ends with the world. A science-fiction film in a way, in that it tests the genre's tenets of time, identity, and space, The Fifth Season is perhaps best unpacked as a textbook on the image as narrative: how it is that pictures placed just so can tap into wells of archetype and dread. I love the effigies in the piece, constructed by the townsfolk as ideas of order in a Wallace Stevens poem.
Throughout, there is the sense inevitable that things are changing and will never change back. At its best, The Fifth Season inspires one to wax rhapsodic. Somewhere in the middle, a group gathers to dance on a wooden plank in a hypnotic, ritualistic way that reminds of all things of the water ceremony in Gore Verbinski's Rango. It's a consideration of the ways in which we try to make the bland indifference of nature adhere to some anthropomorphic idea of mercy. During this moment, you might think of the cascades of milk running down a rock face as a beautiful young woman closes her eyes in grief, or the frequent equations of people with animals, which finally gives way to a sequence that suggests there's been some sort of mass metamorphosis mirroring the townsfolk's mob reactions. Multi-layered, better to say "multi-faceted," The Fifth Season is challenging: at once alien and familiar, frightening and beautiful, and altogether wonderful.