If Spring Never Comes: Woodworth and Brosens Expertly Conclude Their Trilogy
Directors Jessica Woodworth and Peter Brosens didn’t set out to conclude their trilogy of man’s relationship with nature, that includes their first two films together, Khadak and Altiplano, with an ominous sci-fi tinged art-horror film, but The Fifth Season takes elements of their previous work and canvases them with the bleakness that comes with the failure of agriculture. With recalled imagery of public ritual and naturalistic tones that still manage a fablistic air, the filmmaking couple prove themselves to be true auteurist visionaries capable of maintaining a consistent visual language while exploring seemingly simplistic, yet dense thematics.
Their story begins in a small Belgian village where the ragged townspeople are a tight knit community whose wealth resides in the personal relationships with their neighbors, but when changing seasons fail to yield the year’s expected harvest, society begins to breakdown with astounding velocity. Families once joyously gathering for mass celebration with their small, bolstering populace, begin to recede to their homes, unwilling to share what little they have to eat. Friends no longer, the villagers one by one trade their identities for masks, and leave behind sympathetic humanity in self preserving fear. The quick decent from enlightenment to barbarism is stark, disturbing and strangely lyrical in the hands of Woodworth and Brosens.
Their startling visuals are often framed around large groups of people, either attending parties or gathering for sacrificial burnings of Christmas trees for the coming spring crops, but just as many shots in the film are facial close-ups, letting us really see the worn faces of these increasingly desperate townsfolk. Nearly everyone in the film are non-actors and actual neighbors of the filmmakers, and despite their inexperience come across incredibly natural on screen, conversing with innate movement and seemingly legitimate fear as the narrative progresses.
The instantly recognizable music of Bach and composer Michel Schöpping set the aural stage, creating some truly haunting combinations with their carefully crafted on-screen counterparts. In one scene, a father is seen passing his knowledge of music on to his handicapped son as a simple gesture of human kindness and a symbolic pinnacle of intellectualism, but it isn’t long before this poor boy and his father must abandon their subjective altruism or be ravaged by congregational fear. In these blips of quietly complex relations and carefully plotted visuals The Fifth Season recalls Tarkovsky’s equally bleak film, The Sacrifice, but Woodworth and Brosens manage to tread their own path, creating a dark, alluring and challenging piece of cinema all their own.
Reviewed on September 13 at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival – Wavelengths Programme. 94 Min.