For an introduction to the concept of Thankful for World Cinema please go here.
The Fifth Season (2012)
The Fifth Season is a film that tells the story of a small town in the Ardennes region of Belgium that starts to suffer greatly when winter doesn’t end as its supposed to. This is a film that starts out with a more community-oriented view and starts to narrow its focus to a few central figures and storylines, as the climate begins to take its toll on the agrarian community more and more as things deteriorate.
These problems get their first indicator at a bonfire celebration. In a scene that could be plucked out of a low-key horror film you get a sense that some very weird things are afoot. As with many stories about unusual occurrences, there is naught found in the way of explanation. In lieu of that we examine people under duress and see what they do when bereft of basic necessities. It’s a harsh illustration not only of the affects of climate change but also mob mentality which assumes that it can’t be everyone’s fault, which is the more likely explanation, but rather seeks to find a single person to scapegoat.
However, on smaller levels you also witnesses relationships deteriorate: such as the young couple like that of Alice (Aurélia Poirer) and Thomas (Django Schrevens) and even between man and beast. There are also small wondrous scenes that turn bittersweet in light of later events like the wonderful scene where Pol (Sam Louwyck) and his son Octave (Gill Vancompernolle) sing one of Papageno’s arias together.
There in this film a precision of framing as well as a tonally brilliant approach to the edit that communicates far more than any piece of dialogue in the film can. Thus this way the utter malaise that the town is thrown into, the depth of despair is exactly communicated, whilst how they react to it is guarded such that those moments where there is a lashing out still come as a surprise.
In The Fifth Season nature and the environment are not merely part of the atmosphere, but are turned into an active player, much as it is in reality. The task of making it a palpable entity in a two-dimensional plain is never easy and this film succeeds at that and having its impact on the characters rendered quite dramatic; more dramatic, in fact, than if anything supernatural had occurred, because few things are actually more palpably frightening than a cessation of any kind of order to something we as a species had become reliant upon – this is especially true when we’re most to blame for such erratic shifts.