Revelation Perth International Film Festival – The Fifth Season review

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By Simon Miraudo
July 8, 2013

The Fifth Season will be a sobering experience for anyone who has long denied the possibility of Earth’s ecosystem collapsing upon itself, and a terrifying one for those who sulk if the tap water doesn’t get hot enough for a shave (I, shamefully, belong to the latter group). It begins with a small Belgian village celebrating the end of winter and anticipating a new harvest. But the planet is no longer interested in the boring, four season structure that we’ve subscribed to since time immemorial. Winter stretches onwards; nothing new grows; the harvest never comes; the animals freak the f*** out. Godfrey Reggio‘s classic time-lapse documentary Koyaanisqatsi warned us of a ‘life out of balance.’ Here, we see the results. News flash: humanity is not going to cope well with this kind of turmoil!

Filmmakers Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth remain mostly detached from the goings on in this farmland community, allowing cinematographer Hans Bruch Jr. to train a still camera over the increasingly chaotic events. It’s the visual perspective of a cruel, uncaring world, achieved with greater success than in Bela Tarr’s thematically similar The Turin Horse. Tarr’s film is a much more punishing watch than this, however. The Fifth Season, for all its bleakness, has something of a sense of humour. Though the villagers’ desperation is palpable, their evolution into a violent, Venetian plague mask-wearing cult happens off screen. Their eventual, highly organised emergence is pretty amusing. To think they were once so happy to spend their evenings square dancing with one another.

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If the film has a star – beyond cruel Mother Gaia –  it’s Aurélia Poirier as young Alice, a girl who comes of age during the world’s worst environmental disaster. Her family is torn asunder by the anxious community that irrationally blames them for the crisis. Her boyfriend develops abusive tendencies. And on her birthday, she gets a loaf of bread with a candle stuck in the top. As the months pass, she seems to become accustomed to the horror. At the end, she’s a shell of her former shelf. The environmental toll is big, but the human toll is monumental, and Poirier conveys that beautifully.

The Fifth Season subtly implies that the world will likely rebel against our mistreatment, as opposed to letting itself be drained of resources. The Happening tried to tell a comparable tale, without an ounce of the skill or (intentional) humour. The pastoral setting, giant wicker men, ridiculous masks, and insurgent animals are familiar elements to classic fables. Brosens and Woodworth combine them into something new, and far more frightening.

4/5

Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

The Fifth Season plays the Revelation Perth International Film Festival July 13, 2013.

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