Winter, spring, summer, autumn…and then? La cinquiememe saison (The Fifth Season) is an apocalyptic tale which does not need to make use of extraterrestrial aliens or natural catastrophes to impress the viewer. Humans and nature have a very fragile connection – what if nature suddenly decided to cut this connection?
Set in a little rural village in the Ardennes, the inhabitants are preparing for the local feast to celebrate the end of the winter. But something goes wrong: the fire that was supposed to light up the bonfire refuses to burn, a bad omen for the whole community. We do not see the end coming at first but season after season we gradually witness a slow but implacable process of decay: the crops do not grow, the animals become sterile, people fall ill and the trees collapse. The two young protagonists Alice and Thomas, the outsider Pol and his paraplegic son, and all the others can do nothing other than be spectators to this silent disaster.
La cinquieme saison cleverly mixes ancient peasant beliefs with contemporary fears such as the collapse of the natural world. It is a powerful viewing experience, perhaps because of the intimacy of the environment in which it happens. Protagonists and viewers alike are utterly powerless in front of such drastic changes. It is a slow death and, even though it is not set in a famous city like most catastrophe films, the film suggests that the same process is happening everywhere in the world.
The cinematography is outstanding: each single frame could be a magnificent photo and actors, props and sets are all arranged with extreme attention to composition and perspective. Like puppets in the hands of destiny, humans are helpless and nature, being non-human, has no pity. Bleached out colours highlight this little world in decay. Dying trees and vast empty crops surround the village as reminders of the imminent end. We are given a little hope when a man from some other village drives there, symbolically selling plastic “flowers of hope” – but it is an illusion. To say more would give too much of the film away, however.
The directors Brosens and Woodworth created and excellent work of spectacular photographic beauty, detailing archetypical fears of men vs nature in which there is no space for hopeful illusions. A distressing film but a unique cinematic experience that gives food for thought and employs a great cast.
Subtitles:English, French, Dutch