You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Seasons’

After introducing world audiences to creatures of air and sea, the nature-doc duo behind 'Oceans' turns its attention to more terrestrial concerns.

Narrator: Jacques Perrin. (French dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4283358/

Four years in the making and 15,000 in the telling, French co-directors Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud’s millennia-spanning “Seasons” does for beasts of the land what the duo’s “Winged Migration” and “Oceans” did for those of the air and sea, with two notable caveats. First, while it features some of the most breathtaking nature photography this side of BBC’s “Planet Earth” miniseries, this gorgeously cinematic docu ties said footage to a leaden all-purpose eco-consciousness message that nearly spoils the otherwise timeless experience. And second, the animals and environments on offer aren’t nearly as exotic — mostly wolves and wild horses — limiting the gee-whiz factor to younger audiences than might have turned out for their internationally acclaimed earlier collaborations.

After innovating camera rigs that could soar and swim alongside their previous animal subjects, the visionary helmers thought long and hard about how best to tackle terrestrial creatures, ultimately deciding to compress the long and hard stretch between the Ice Age and the modern era into a single seasonal cycle of its own, from the first green shoots of life that emerged from the glacial thaw to the dismal grey winter modern cities have wrought. Operating on the heavy-handed premise that homo sapiens make terrible neighbors — farming, hunting or climate-changing animals out of existence — “Seasons” suggests that Europe’s forests were a primordial Eden of sorts until man came along and ruined it (and nothing sours the taste of fresh popcorn faster than such accusations).

The bipedal bad guys don’t appear for a good 40 minutes, allowing the directors to focus on retelling European history from the critters’ p.o.v., immersing themselves in intimate connection with the various species who will become the film’s recurring stars, introduced in adorable baby-animal form: There’s the vulnerable doe who licks clean her newborn faun, the beady-eyed fox pup who gazes directly into the camera, or the brood of downy ducklings making that risky first leap from a protective treetop. (“Seasons” depicts this latter stunt from an impressive range of angles, including above, below and looking out from the lofty nest itself.) A gorgeous lynx cub also makes an especially strong first impression, playfully testing its bite on its incredibly patient mother.

The earliest evidence of humans (not counting the scant voiceover heard over the pic’s opening scenes) appears in the form of an arrowhead necklace, and though actors are cast and costumed in primitive garb, they appear only on the margins at first. And yet, from the beginning, they are understood to be a threat to the animals, who are, admittedly, plenty threatening to one another. Consider the aforementioned lynx, who dispatches with Bambi once big enough to pounce, or the pack of wolves who attack anything that crosses their paths, including one another.

The “Seasons” camera crew manages to get stunningly close to these interactions, reportedly rejecting zoom lenses (though the Angenieux brand gets an opening-credit nod) in favor of actual physical proximity. That means cozying up to a pair of brawling brown bears, getting within kicking range of feral horses and using ultra-fast ATVs to race alongside actual wolf hunts. But it also keeps the bloodletting to a minimum, unless it’s humans doing the hunting, preserving a potential G rating while staying true to its ASPCA-grade claim that “no animals were harmed in the making of this film.”

The soul of any nature docu emerges in the editing, and “Seasons” is elegant if not always intuitive, following roughly the cycle of one calendar year (though winter comes and goes more than once), subdivided into one day (night dramatically falls mid-film to allow the pincushion hedgehogs and predatory owls to go about their nocturnal business), thereby providing some sort of temporal continuity for several millennia’s worth of natural history. As always, there’s a fair amount of cheating involved, particularly evident in cutaways — to a curious red squirrel shown spectating over a wolf fight, or the bear cub who seems to cover its eyes in reaction to a tussle between adults — which serve to transition between the species-agnostic roundelay, which occasionally soars above or through the treetops to follow birds and bugs.

Don’t be surprised if foreign distributors opt to overhaul the narration entirely, a la “The March of the Penguins,” rather than merely translating. After all, not all markets share the French helmers’ faith in auds’ ability to follow the film’s somewhat freeform logic, while others may want to inject a more educational dimension. Most importantly, as written, the finale serves as a reductive downer. In the film’s last act, man’s impact becomes increasingly evident, building to the image of a smoking power plant, which appears like a blight on the wildly deforested landscape. (In addition to filming in French forests, the crew traveled to Norway, Scotland, Romania and Holland to cobble together its unspoiled Euro wilderness.)

“Man has become a geological force,” the v.o. chides. “He modifies nature and the seasons.” But then so, too, do wolves, bison, deer, badgers and bears — species that are routinely culled to contain imbalances in nature. Meanwhile, a skeptic might point to Paris, glimpsed in the pic’s final minutes, as evidence of human innovation and ask what animals achieved in that same time. You don’t see them making documentaries about us, though “Seasons” ultimately suggests what such a portrait might look like.

Film Review: 'Seasons'

Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (Special Screenings), Oct. 23, 2015. Running time: 97 MIN. (Original title: “Les saisons”)

Production: (Documentary — France-Germany) A Pathe (in France) release of a Jacques Perrin, Jerome Seydoux presentation of a Galatee Films, Pathe, Pandora Film, France 2 Cinema, Rhone-Alpes Cinema, Axone Invest – Invest Image 3, Winds production, in association with the Podlaskie Region, with the participation of Canal Plus, Cine Plus, France Televisions, Film- und Medienstiftung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Region Rhone-Alpes, Region Ile-de-France, Region Provence Alpes Cote d'Azur, Region Aquitaine, Cirlic – Regions Centre – Val de Loire, in partnership with the CNC, Conseil General de l'Ain, Procirep, Angoa, Active Sustainable, Richard Lounsbery Foundation, la Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux, with the support of Fondation Bettencourt Schueller, Principality of Monaco, Fondation Albert II de Monaco, Rolex, EDF, Center Parcs, Union Europeenne. (International sales: Pathe Intl., Paris.) Produced by Lydia Montes, Johann Mousseau, Dimitri Billecocq, Perrin, Nicolas Elghozi. Executive producer, Olli Barbe. Co-producer, Romain Le Grand.

Crew: Directed by Jacques Perrin, Jacques Cluzaud. Screenplay, Perrin, Cluzaud, Stephane Durand. Camera (color, widescreen), Stephane Aupetit, Michel Benjamin, Jerome Bouvier, Laurent Charbonnier, Philippe Garguil, Eric Guichard, Laurent Fleutot, Sylvain Maillard, Christophe Pottier, Jan Walencik; editor, Vincent Schmitt; music, Bruno Coulais; costume supervisor, Aurore Vicente; sound (Dolby Atmos), Philippe Barbeau; supervising sound editor, Jerome Wiciak; re-recording mixers, Gerard Lamps, Armelle Mahe; animal wranglers, Pascal Treguy, Marie-Noelle Baroni, Eric Bureau, Marie Noelle Divet; assistant directors, Martin Blum, Vincent Canaple.

With: Narrator: Jacques Perrin. (French dialogue)

More Film

  • 'All These Small Moments' Review

    Film Review: 'All These Small Moments'

    The magic of writer-director Melissa B. Miller Costanzo’s “All These Small Moments” can be found within the intimacy of the scenarios, the authenticity of her earnest characterizations, and the accessibility of the actors’ honest performances. In her deftly polished directorial debut, Costanzo dovetails the primary story about a teen’s coming of age with a secondary [...]

  • Bruce Tufeld Dead: Hollywood Agent and

    Hollywood Agent and Manager Bruce Tufeld Dies at 66

    Bruce Tufeld, a Hollywood agent and manager who once repped stars like Rob Lowe, Laura Dern, and Kelsey Grammer, died Tuesday in Los Angeles as a result of complications from liver cancer. He was 66. The son of respected television announcer Richard “Dick” Tufeld and Adrienne Tufeld, Bruce began his career as an assistant at ICM [...]

  • Bruce Dern

    Film News Roundup: Bruce Dern's 'The Lears' Bought by Vertical for February Release

    In today’s film news roundup, Bruce Dern’s “The Lears” and “Angels Are Made of Light” are acquired, Cold War drama “Stanley Cage” is launched and a documentary about Madonna’s early music career gets a release. ACQUISITIONS More Reviews Film Review: 'All These Small Moments' TV Review: HBO's 'Brexit' Vertical Entertainment has acquired North American rights [...]

  • Octavia Spencer Bryce Dallas Howard

    Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard to Reunite for Comedy 'Fairy Tale Ending'

    Octavia Spencer and Bryce Dallas Howard will reunite for the ensemble comedy “Fairy Tale Ending.” Jim Hecht (“Ice Age: The Meltdown) and Tracy McMillan (“Marvel’s Runaways”) are writing the screenplay. More Reviews Film Review: 'All These Small Moments' TV Review: HBO's 'Brexit' Howard will also produce the Universal movie through her Nine Muses Entertainment alongside [...]

  • Robert Smith, Longtime Executive at DuArt

    Robert Smith, Longtime Executive at New York's DuArt Film Labs, Dies at 88

    Robert Smith, a longtime executive with New York’s DuArt Film Labs, died Jan. 11 in Montvale, N.J. He was 88. Smith spent some 62 years with DuArt, the film processing and post-production facility founded in 1922 in the penthouse of an automobile garage in Midtown. Smith rose to president of DuArt before retiring in 2015. [...]

  • Bird Box

    Los Angeles On-Location Feature Filming Surges 12.2% in 2018

    On-location feature filming in Greater Los Angeles expanded impressively in 2018, gaining 12.2% to 4,377 shooting days, according to FilmL.A. Production activity for feature films rose 15.5% to 1,078 shooting days during the fourth quarter, with 146 days coming from projects receiving California tax credits — including Netflix’s “Bird Box,” Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content