Bears roaring and spitting and pawing in one-on-one combat; wolves chasing down honking boars, teeth bared; deer giving birth; elks moaning in rut; and bison wriggling in the cold. It's like your favorite YouTube videos from nature, arranged back to back and compiled with minimal voiceover and musical accompaniment, all in an effort to convey the "Golden Age of the Forest." Yes, it's Seasons, brought to you from France, and it screens at 7:10 p.m. on Saturday and 8:25 on Sunday at the Cinematheque.
A master-class in nature cinematography, Seasons also happens to be a snoozefest. And the family-friendly ecological message to which it builds — we can once again co-exist happily with wild beasts — is unfortunately not too specific and not too convincing.
You will be mesmerized by two or three stunning sequences: "How on earth did they get that footage?" you'll ask yourself. Though the credits name a handful of cinematographers, one imagines hidden cameras rolling constantly in countless forests primeval. There's a horse fight; there are migrating birds; there's a leopard on the hunt — all in extreme close-up, camera undetected. It's some of the most intimate, uninterrupted looks at animal behavior and anatomy that you're likely to see onscreen. None of it seems simulated or staged. It's as if you're peeking into the world of animals before humans arrived.
But humans do arrive, inevitably. And in one sense, the long, slow, observation of these creatures in their natural habitats makes the arrival of civilization — a fast-forward in the final 20 minutes of the movie — much more dramatic. But this narrative technique is unlikely to wield the same emotional power as, for example, Leonardo DiCaprio's Before the Flood, released this fall on the National Geographic channel. That film, though nakedly partisan, used current images from natural disasters around the globe to paint a stark and urgent picture of climate change's effects.
Seasons, while smaller in ambition (though visually much better), paints a dire picture too. But it doesn't rise to the fever pitch necessary to induce feelings in viewers that conservation is a vital cause. A high emotional pitch isn't necessary in the presence of clearly stated facts, but Seasons is short on those, too. It's literally just animals existing in nature. — Sam Allard