Death and Taxes. Two things we are told are the only guarantees in life. They are about as assured as the changing of the seasons. Even in the cold desolation of the Arctic the seasons are a given. Despite the endless look of winter in that barren, frigid wasteland there will always be a winter, spring, summer and fall. As most people will tell you spring is a time of renewal, rebirth and signals the end of winter. Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworths’ The Fifth Season asks the question what would happen if spring didn’t come.
It is a festive time in an isolated agrarian Ardennes village. The townsfolk are gathering for the annual bonfire to mark the return of the Spring harvest. There’s nothing out of the ordinary. The bonfire sits a top a hill overlooking the village. The citizens gather around thankful for the previous harvest and are ready for renewal. As they did countless times before, they light the bonfire with torches. However, something is wrong. The bonfire won’t ignite. Could it be the wind? They try again but nothing ignites. They look at each other confused and bewildered. This is how The Fifth Season begins and where it goes from there may surprise you.
The Fifth Season is an interesting look at an event and the impact it has on a society especially one that is heavily dependent on nature taking its course. It’s clear that the village does practice paganistic rituals so could there be something more theological at play here. Who knows. When the film begins it appears as though we are going to be watching a comedy about a group of eccentric people coping with a strange situation. The tone seems to be set when a farmer is trying to get his rooster to sing cock-a-doodle-do. The farmer sits on one end of the kitchen table and the rooster on the other. It certainly is an amusing image. However as the film progresses you begin to suspect that there is something a little off in this village. You can’t quite figure it out but there is definitely something afoot.
Brosens and Woodworth never try to play things up and allow things to unfold naturally. They have enough respect for the audience to be able to keep up. It certainly is a challenging film to watch as it seems there really isn’t much of anything going on here. However there is a subtle but layered cohesiveness to it all that kind of makes sense in the end. Shooting on location they are able to capture some striking imagery. The cast is comprised of mostly amateur actors and they perform quite well as they convincingly portray a community in a downward spiral. Edited by Woodworth she maintains a sufficient pace as she doles out bits of information that leads to a conclusion that will likely perplex most audiences.
The Fifth Season is an interesting mystery/drama that evokes other films but it would do the film an injustice by listing them. It certainly is one you’ll want to watch with a open mind and a great deal of patience; not doing so and you may miss something. One thing for sure is that the closing moments will have you scratching your head wondering just what was that supposed to mean.