What Will We Do If Spring Is No Longer Showing Up?

in 57th Valladolid International Film Festival

by Angelika Kettelhack

The Valladolid film festival is esoterically better known as Seminci. It means Semana Internacional de Cine (International Week of Cinema). It is not as big as the festivals in San Sebastián, in Cannes or in Berlin but it offers a lot more charm and hospitality. And with its 57th edition it is nearly as old as the aforementioned ones. 

Valladolid, located between Madrid and the Golf of Biscaya and not too far from the border of Portugal, is a very old town and has since 1346 one of the oldest Universities of Europe. It is also well known because it has more churches than all the other cities in Spain and because Christopher Columbus died there in 1506. Located in the Community of Castilla y León (Castile and León) it is also famous for its excellent wines: Ribera del Duero is the red cultivar and the white, based on the verdejo grape, originates in the vineyards of Rueda.

But the most important event in Valladolid this year again was its brilliant choice of international films like When Day Breaks (Kad Svane Dan) by Goran Paskaljevic, Rust and Bone (De Rouille et d‘Os) by Jacques Audiard, or Hannah Arendt by Margarethe von Trotta, the latter of which won the second prize, La Espiga de Plata (Silver Spike) in Valladolid. 

My favorite film in the competition section was one of two very outstanding pictures from Belgium: The Fifth Season (La cinquième Saison), which got The International Critics Prize 2012 (FIPRESCI Prize). The Fifth Season, shot by Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth, narrates, in form of a modern tale, a mysterious calamity: In an old village deep in the forests of the Ardennes spring, the first season of a new year, always expected as a matter of course in the annual rhythm, suddenly refuses to come. And sooner or later the spectator, in spite of the amusing, hilarious and humorous development of the picture, will have an uneasy sense of environmental damage or loss.

But at first all the villagers, among them Alice and Thomas, a very young couple who have just fallen in love, celebrate the end of winter with some wonderful archaic rites known for over a hundred years. The peasants collect the sear Christmas trees from all over the village in order to burn them in a big bonfire. But the lighting-up of the wooden mountain will not be possible. This is the time when the first mutual allegations and accusations start and the intercourse with each other grows more and more abrasively. Panic mounts and violence explodes between the inhabitants of the village when their cows will no longer give milk, when the seeds are not going to flourish and bees are perishing. The circle of nature performs a fatal tilting towards an ecological disaster.

Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth – who together have made films in Mongolia and Peru – now dedicate their activity to the region where they themselves are living. This is a region that seems to be full of mysterious locations. The Fifth Season delineates the no-win-situation with comicalness, subtle irony and black humor. And there is an abundance of excellent frames in the film that evocate references to well-known paintings, and coincidentally the splendid camera of Hans Bruck shows the landscape and the attire of the people mostly in frozen colors, thus underlining this premonition of the natural disaster and convulsion.

The language is very contemporary in depicting a present and universal problem even though it cannot give an appropriate answer. In the end the community is finding in a newcomer the person who is solely responsible. Perhaps it is because he has a disabled child but anyway this is an astonishing and unforeseen twist because in the past this man and his child were much appreciated by all inhabitants of the village. When, one year later, wintertime is over the lovely bonfire has become a funeral pyre for the once beloved newcomer who, in the eyes of his former neighbors, has become the antagonist.

Asked if he and his wife Jessica Woodworth can keep faith or, better still, imagine that our earth could still be saved, Peter Brosens answered: “We just believe in the power and potency of filmmaking and its capacity of transformation.” Let’s hope it can.

Edited by Steven Yates