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In search of John Berger

23 June, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

John Berger and Tilda Swinton in Seasons in Quincy

Directed by Tilda Swinton, Colin McCabe and Christopher Roth
Certificate PG

ARTIST, storyteller and philosopher John Berger, who died earlier this year aged 90, is the focus of this celebration of his work by three directors who count him as a huge influence on their lives and also as a friend.

But this is more than a eulogy to Berger – it is a gentle trip into the secluded Valle du Giffre in the French Alps, which Berger called home.

Produced by the Derek Jarman Hub at Birkbeck University in Bloomsbury, it took five years to shoot and brings Berger’s thoughtful, paper-bound musings to life.

Berger went to live in the Alpine village of Quincy in 1973 and was fascinated by the land-based existence of peasant farmers – and saw how a lifestyle that had lasted 1,000 years was slowly vanishing.

The film is split into different sections. Tilda Swinton speaks of his “radical democratic humanism” as she interviews him over a produce-laden kitchen table about his memories of his father, who fought in the First World War.

Other sections by McCabe and director Christopher Roth take us from his home into the area he lives in, and tracks his musings on a life there.

It’s a slow offering but one that has a warm tone. Discordant violins that provide a backing track give it a sense of perhaps unnecessary melancholy – he may deal with topics such as slaughtering pigs, or the effects of the wars of the 20th century in his writing, but does it so beautifully that his is a celebration of expression, no matter what topics he is dealing with.

This film is mesmer­ising – and any time hearing Berger’s words, or watching him sketch, is time well spent.


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