21 October 2012 | JvH48
Excellent film outlining mankind's strong dependency on nature, and the side effects when nature does not cooperate
I saw this film at the Ghent filmfestival 2012 on a Wednesday morning at 10 AM and with nearly all available 230 seats occupied. The fact that the story is located in a small Belgian village, and that the cast is from Belgian origin as well as one of the directors Peter Brosens, may for a small part be the reason for attracting local interest. There are only few non-Belgian people involved, the most notable of which are the American co-director Jessica Woodworth (wife of Peter Brosens), and Dutch composer Michel Schopping. But chauvinism can certainly not be the sole reason for the local interest, due to the track record that this director couple already has built with their earlier films located in Mongolia and Peru, named Khadak and Altiplano respectively. All their films have the relationship between mankind and nature as a common theme, and the one at hand can be seen as completing a trilogy.
The "plot" is very simple and straightforward (but my description does not do the film justice). Other than expected the winter period is not followed by spring. Nature comes to a full stop: bees disappear, cows stop giving milk, and seeds do not sprout. We observe nature crumbling down, very literally demonstrated in a few scenes where we see mighty forest trees falling over.
But it is not only nature that we observe crumbling down. Though the film starts with a ritual burning of Christmas trees thereby showing a vivid and harmonious social life within the village, relationships apparently start deteriorating later on as a side effect of the unusual behavior of mother nature. This is not surprising because of the fact that most people in the village are farmers or have related occupations. Everyone's future depends on products from the land. A logical result is that even relationships within families go downhill. We see some people taking desperate actions, but it all solves nothing.
A special technique employed in this film is the usage of long takes. The camera does not move, and we have all opportunity to silently observe what happens before us. This technique does work very well, and is very appropriate in this case where nature is the main actor in the drama that we see developing.
Each of the long takes tells a story by itself, though not much really happens within each one individually. We get the opportunity to read between the lines, proverbially speaking, and we are given ample time to outguess everyone's motives. It is a captivating way to tell a story, and works out very well, particularly in this context. Many months pass one by one, and we see everyone's survival strategies from very close. It succeeds in getting us involved in the world these people live in, yet we'll fail probably to fully understand them.
Of course, while looking for the cause of a natural disaster, a scapegoat is always nearby. This time it is a man living in a trailer, together with his handicapped son, to become a logical target. Though visibly integrated within the village's social life as we see in the beginning of the film, he and his son remain outsiders. Eventually, they take it out on him and his caravan. This was bound to happen, being the way these things work within the confines of an isolated village. The only aspect that surprised me was that the villagers waited that long to take action.
I almost forgot that most of the acting is done by local people, all of them non-professional actors living in the neighborhood. We see their worn faces from very close, and only that reminds us who they really are. They behave very naturally, even when the camera closes in on them.
All in all, this film impressed me very much and left much food for thought. A small point is that I could not understand the higher purpose of the ostriches that appear at the end of the film. But simultaneously hearing the opening score of the Johannes Passion by J S Bach made me overlook this incomprehension, deciding it to be probably my fault. I could not do other than scoring a maximum 5 for the audience award when leaving the theater.