Sunday, August 20, 2017

2690. Film Review: Les Saisons (Seasons)

By Kamran Nayeri, August 20, 2017

Les Saisons (Seasons) is a 2015 French-German nature documentary film directed, produced, co-written, and narrated by Jacques Perrin, with Jacques Cluzaud as co-director.  The documentary is centered on the natural history of Europe beginning with the Ice Age c. 110,000 – c. 11,700 years ago. The film depicts this period focusing on animals who survived in Europe at the time, it opens with a herd of bisons that look like frozen statues.  As the climate warmed, the ice retreated, and the geological epoch Holocene began, a forest covered Europe and new and more varied life thrived there. This part is rich wildlife cinematography. The film succeeds so well in drawing the audience into viewing the forest from the perspective of it animal inhabitant, that when the camera rolls onto a scene of hunter-gatherers we see them from the eyes of onlooking animals, with curiosity. This part constitutes the majority of the film coverage and is most beautiful of all. 

Then the next episode in the film is the rise of first farmers, with hints at domestication of animals and plants.  Gradually, the audience views with alarm the expansion of the realm of farmers and their ever more learning of the forest and domestication of wildlife as the forest retreats to ever smaller parts of the continent.  The wildlife that survives is forced up the mountainous regions. 

In the last part of the film, we see the arrival of industrialization with the devastation of forests and wildlife that had survived, increasingly being forced to live in the ever-expanding human settlements.  Finally, we see the European wars that destroyed not just millions of humans but also an untold number of non-human fauna and flora. 

The director and co-director are well-known for their earlier nature documentaries: Winged Migration (2001) and Oceans (2009).  Seasons is definitely as beautifully produced as their earlier films. Where it is lacking is in its final message, which blames humans for the ecological crisis since the Agricultural Revolution, especially for the current Sixth Extinction, and in it naively expressed hope that somehow we will change our ways, to bring peace in human relations with nature.  

Of course, we humans are part of the animal kingdom, hence of nature itself. What the film depicts as the rise of early farmers, required a world-historic break with the long history of our hunter-gatherer ancestors who did not differentiate themselves from the rest of nature in their ecocentric worldview.  The first farmers were pioneers of the anthropocentric worldview as their mode of production required domestication of plants and animals. In effect, they adopted an alienated view of nature in their new mode of life with their presumption that humans are separate and morally superior to other species. This drive for increasing domination and control of nature eventually produced an economic surplus through the exploitation of domesticated species which formed the material basis for that the early class-based civilizations that were formed through subordination, oppression, and exploitation of humans.  

Taking notice of the world ecological movement that has been actively searching for ways to stop and reverse the planetary crisis would have been a fitting ending to the film.  Yes, there is hope, but only if billions of us realize what five millennia of class societies, especially the anthropocentric industrial capitalist civilization of the last 250 years, has done to the life-support systems of the planet, and organize and mobilize to transcend it in the direction of an ecocentric ecological socialist world.  

Still, Les Saisons is a treat to your senses and will open your heart to the love for Mother Nature, an absolutely necessary ingredient for saving the world.  

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