Monday, August 29, 2016

Berger-lovers, take note -- THE SEASONS IN QUINCY: Four Portraits of John Berger opens

TrustMovies' first experience with the noted polymath John Berger came back in 1976, with the release of a movie called Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000, for which Berger had written the screenplay, along with the film's Swiss director, Alain Tanner. I had never seen a movie like this one that tossed together a bunch of somewhat related characters (all friends, as I recall) and, as scene after scene played out, got us in the audience thinking about all kinds of important things: culture, politics, economics, love, parenting -- even as we were surprisingly entertained, amused, moved and made to connect things. I had never experience anything quite like this in a movie theater before. And, maybe, now that I think of it, since. (I am also made suddenly aware, if I did not consider this at the time I first saw the film, that my own daughter would herself turn 26 in the year 2000.)

After that experience, I kept a lookout for whatever else I might come across from Mr. Berger (shown above and below), and over the decades, I have enjoyed and learned from much of his work. Now, we have an unusual documentary opening this Wednesday at New York City's Film Forum -- THE SEASONS IN QUINCY: FOUR PORTRAITS OF JOHN BERGER -- that ought to be catnip for us Berger fans and might even appeal to folk who know little (or simply want to know more) about one of the most special jack-of-many-trades to grace western culture in this century and the one just past.

These four portraits (titled Ways of Listening, Spring, A Song for Politics and Harvest) last around 22 minutes each and are said to have been directed  by four filmmakers -- Colin MacCabe, Christopher Roth, Bartek Dziadosz and the actress and long-time friend of Berger, Tilda Swinton (above, right) -- though it seemed to me that perhaps all the directors had something to do with all the segments.

Certainly, scenes, people and ideas seem to bounce back and forth here -- which would be appropriate for Berger and his oeuvre, with the man himself -- gentle and quiet and alert -- holding it all together. In its own style, the movie manages to capture much of Berger's, too.

Ms Swinton herself appears in a couple of the portraits, the first and the last, as do, I am guessing, her children (or maybe younger siblings?). Berger's son, too, plays in a good part of the final segment, making this a kind of lovely tale of two families, set in scenery that will make you want to move to this French mountainside and its verdant valley forthwith.

Along the way we are made to think about everything from the lives of farm animals to where our world is going in terms of economic/political policy. Berger calls himself a storyteller, albeit one "who can identify stories good for the reader's health," while Swinton prefers the moniker "radical humanist." After viewing and listening to all that's here, you'll undoubtedly come up with your own word for the guy.

"Hope has nothing to do with optimism," "It's in hell, not heaven, where solidarity is important," and "History cannot have its tongue cut out," are just a few of the ideas we come up against here, and the images we see -- from peas in a pod, to chickens on the loose and the beauty of hogs, cows and the French countryside -- are simply a delight.

This is a uniquely personal little movie, and while a few of the filmic tricks, particularly those in A Song for Politics, may not add much to the mix -- more of that discussion shown in black-and-white by a most interesting quintet (above) would have been preferable by me -- what is here seems so redolent of Berger himself that we don't much mind.

By movie's end we've come to a new generation. Glancing, allusive, beautiful, oddly moving, the documentary often soars, while the finale even finds a perfect use for those raspberries we've seen earlier. And look! Berger and his son have set a place at the table for their late wife/mother.

From Icarus Films and running but 90 minutes, these documentary portraits opens this Wednesday, August 31 at Film Forum in New York City before hitting another ten venues where intellectual pursuits appear to be happening (and yes, folk: Los Angeles is again missing in action). You can take a look at all upcoming playdates, cities and theaters by clicking here and then scrolling down to the appropriate movie (they're in alphabetical order by title).

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