Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Best Films I Have Never Seen Before: The Seasons (1975)

The Seasons (1975)
Directed by: Artavazd Peleshian.

Renowned Armenian director Artzvazd Peleshian is said to be the inventor of a film style called “distance montage”. Unlike many of the reviews online that I have read after watching probably his most famous work The Seasons (aka Four Seasons), I am still confused with what exactly that means, despite the director himself trying to explain it several times. Watching The Seasons it is certainly clear that he was inspired in part by two Soviet montage masters – Dziga Vertov and Sergei Eisenstein – and he has also been compared to someone more his contemporary – Bruce Conner. Perhaps I’m just not smart enough to see what he means by “distance” montage, and how it differs from those other filmmakers as Peleshian has claimed. He does talk about how his films are not about single, isolated moments – but the entirety of the film itself. That no one single image has meaning unless it’s taken in context with the rest of the movie. It makes a certain amount of sense – although I certainly think you could argue the same thing about Conner.

Perhaps I need to see more of Peleshian’s work to truly grasp what he is talking about – because judging on my reaction to The Seasons, I’m clearly not getting what Peleshian is talking about. And that is because The Seasons is a movie full of beautiful, haunting imagery – and yet to me, it is these isolated moments in the film that stand out, and not the totality of the film itself – which is the exact opposite of what Peleshian is talking about.

The movie opens with a scene of a sheep herder madly clinging to one of his flock as the two of them hurtle down the rapids of a raging river. We will get many scenes like this over the half hour running time of The Seasons – the film ends with a very similar scene, bringing everything full circle once again. The images are undeniably beautiful – which explains why this is apparently the first film in which Peleshian didn’t use any archival footage in his montage, just images he shot with his cinematographer. But let me also say this – despite the beauty of the shot itself, for some reason Peleshian decides to use slow motion in the scene as well – and like most instances of people using slow motion, I don’t think it really works. It just draws out the image in a way we don’t need.

A better scene in the movie, with a similar view, is farmer running ahead and pulling down what looks to be huge haystacks down a very steep hill. You think there would be a better, safer way to do this (if one of these haystacks goes out of control, you could easily see someone getting crush to death). The images are once again beautiful, and brilliantly edited together. If Peleshian knows nothing else, he knows how to edit.

But finally, I must say that to me, I just didn’t much care for The Seasons. Yes, the images are beautiful, but to me they never came together in terms of making a larger statement – or really any statement at all. And there comes a point where beautiful images just isn’t enough – you have to have something to sink your teeth into, to challenge your mind, and The Seasons didn’t do this for me.

Even if Peleshian is not a very well-known director – that is what happens when you make shorts for your entire life – and even if I didn’t really care for The Seasons (unlike Conner, I don’t think I’m going to try to delve deeper into Peleshian’s filmography), he is undeniably an important filmmaker. His work has been said to inspire the later career of Godard (not Peleshian’s fault, folks), as well as Werner Herzog. Parts of this film even reminded me of Terrence Malick’s brilliant The Tree of Life (2011) – as both films look at the connection between man and nature. But as a film, The Seasons contains some beautiful imagery – and for me, not all that much else.

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