“Once upon a blue moon there comes along a very special film so wrong-headed, so deeply, deeply ridiculous, but made with the utmost confidence, that a wide swath of critics, programmers, and spectators mistake its balls-out look-at-me! posturing for high-minded, state-of-the-earth profundity,” begins Cinema Scope editor Mark Peranson. “Though they’ve tended in the current direction in films like 2006’s Khadak (Mongolia) and 2009’s Altiplano (the Andes), nothing in the careers of directors Peter Brosens (who began as a documentarian) and Jessica Woodworth has prepared us for the full-blown gaga madness of The Fifth Season, a bogus and pompous work deep to its core that tracks a small Belgian village’s descent into communal and environmental surrealism.”
And in the other corner, we have John Bleasdale, writing for CineVue: “Part-fable, part-stark warning, this is a haunting work of exceptional cinema.” To back up: “Deep in Belgium’s Ardennes forest, life goes on in a small rustic village as it has done for many years. Seasons come and go, farmers work the land and milk the cows, children play in the woods imitating bird song and festivals are celebrated.” Among these is “the traditional burning of Uncle Winter, who is accused of a list of crimes. However, something goes wrong and the ceremonial bonfire won’t light. Whether this is the cause or merely the first symptom of a wider malaise is left unclear. Strange noises are heard in the woods and the seasons refuse to change. Crops fail, the cows won’t give milk, and soon people start blaming each other and especially the outsider Pol (Sam Louwyck), who sells honey from his caravan where he lives with his wheelchair-bound son.”
Boyd van Hoeij for Variety: “Finding exactly the right balance between larger group dynamics and individual stories—the handful of characters with whom we become familiar are the most knowing, credible and blackly humorous bunch that populated a small Low-Countries town since the protags of Antonia’s Line—the film also mines a clear vein of surrealism, with people appearing with the beaked masks of plague doctors, further underlining this is first and foremost an allegory.”
But for David Rooney, writing in the Hollywood Reporter, “while this surreal fable about nature turning on arrogant man is brimming with images of startling beauty and unusual locations captured with an elegant compositional eye, it’s rendered distancing by its ponderous tone and overload of cryptic symbolism. There’s exquisite film craft here, along with some wonderfully strange scenes, but it’s burdened by creeping pretentiousness and a stultifying pace.”
Screen‘s Lee Marshall, too, finds it to be “a frustrating film: often haunting, but in the end rather too distant from the community whose sufferings it charts.”
Venice and Toronto 2012: a guide to the coverage of the coverage. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @KeyframeDaily on Twitter and/or the RSS feed. Get Keyframe Daily in your inbox by signing in at fandor.com/daily.