Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud’s Seasons is a nature documentary that reveals itself as a story of tragic usurpation. Throughout, the filmmakers peer into the lives of a European forest’s wildlife, from the end of the Ice Age to the onset of mankind, when animals began to fall victim to man’s complex technological advances. As in their prior Winged Migration, Perrin and Cluzaud capture astonishing close-up images of animals engaging in little-seen behavior, from a pack of wolves hunting prey to a lengthy fight between two bears. The close proximity of the cameras, and the use of long takes, allows us to witness the animals’ nuanced physical gestures and facial expressions, creating a level of intimacy with the audience that builds to an emotional crescendo when humans violently assert dominance over the animals.
Perrin and Cluzaud gracefully and sporadically utilize a montage technique to make it appear as if some of the creatures are giving a performance of sorts within a scripted drama, and reacting to their environment on a subtextual, rather than instinctual, level. This is never more elegantly expressed than in a sobering sequence of an elk being chased and subsequently surrounded by hunters on horseback and their dogs. As the filmmakers cut back and forth between the solemn elk and the horses, which are shackled by saddles and other accessories, Seasons gives the impression that a betrayal of some sort has taken place, with the horses aiding the humans in the hunting of this elk.
If the ominous voiceover that pops up throughout Seasons underlines too pointedly the destructive power of man, the film’s images ultimately convey this message with biting irony. Humans are mostly kept off screen in the film, and we’re aware of them through the introduction of their new weapons or infrastructure: an arrow shooting into a tree here, a carriage barreling down a paved road there, all to the confusion of the animals encountering it. By the end of the film, most of the forest has been destroyed to make way for towns, and one of the closing images focuses on one last man-made contraption: a bust of a horse made of stone. The filmmakers, then, subject us to a final irony, casually acknowledging the way we’re prone to honoring the very creatures whose original habitats we took away from them.