The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger
A quietly arresting documentary feature, doused in arthouse-esque intellect and visual creativity, The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger is a fractured yet compelling insight into the poet, writer and artist behind some of Britain’s most respected works. Structured into a quartet of short films, directed by his friends, admirers and fans, we’re left with a beautiful cinematic anthology, a testament to Berger’s uniquely artistic and thought-provoking legacy.
The four portraits that make up the project are directed in turn by Colin MacCabe (Ways of Listening), Christopher Roth (Spring), Bartek Dziadosz and MacCabe (A Song of Politics) and, of course, Tilda Swinton (Harvest). Touching delicately on various influences of Berger’s work, and shot over the four seasons in his home town of Quincy in France, each segment is pieced together in a pass-the-baton style narrative that can be contemplated separately, or together. Overlays of music, fade outs and rolling credits are all that separate the entries, which aim to offer snapshots into the mind and life of our protagonist.
If unfamiliar with Berger’s work, digesting this 90-minute documentary may be challenging. He personally appears only briefly in three of the four sequences, and introductions to his writings and beliefs are sparse. In the third episode, A Song of Politics, he’s briefly introduced via a talk-show style debate discussing his views on capitalism and socialist principles that shaped his thinking, while in Ways of Listening, Swinton conversationally taps into his childhood upbringing while spending time with him in France, poetically reading extracts of his literature to a haunting score. We rely on the visual takes and creative methods injected into the filmmaking to better understand this man’s vision and influence – a fitting tribute to an artist who placed so much emphasis on the irredeemable wonder of seeing.
From behind the lens we’re given a view to his way of looking at life – from close-ups of the natural world; from flowers to fields and animals, and their relationship with man; to wide-scope landscapes of his surroundings and the nostalgic black and white staccato tone of political chatter in an otherwise colourful screenplay. Artistically, the picture is ravishing, and we learn a great deal about an exemplary figure and all that he held dear. A unique approach to the biography format, this is a pleasant watch that deserves praise from not only Berger’s admirers, but from film fans and academics alike.
The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger is released nationwide on 23rd June 2017.
Watch the trailer for The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger here: