The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger (4 stars)

The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger

Wonderful documentary about the titular storyteller which counts Tilda Swinton amongst its filmmakers

John Berger was impossible to pin down. He wrote stories, essays, poems, films and seminal art criticism, he pondered every subject under the sun. What perhaps unified the work was what his friend Tilda Swinton describes in this documentary as a 'radical, democratic humanism'. He called himself a storyteller; Swinton elaborates that his aim was 'to identify stories that are good for the reader's health.'

Made before his death earlier this year, this is comprised of four essay-films stitched together, shot primarily in and around Berger's home of 40 years in the French alpine village of Quincy. By spending time in his company – still startlingly acute in his 80s – Swinton and fellow filmmakers Colin MacCabe, Bartek Dziadosz and Christopher Roth offer a wonderful portrait of a charismatic, warm, thought-provoking and inspiring man.

In 'Ways of Listening', Swinton visits Berger during winter, the pair chatting in his kitchen while she prepares an apple crumble. While the notion seems quaint, their conversations – about childhood memories of military fathers – is rather profound and rich with kinship.

With 'Spring', Roth considers Berger's desire to understand the experience of peasant farmers, and his perceptive, philosophical writing about animals. 'A Song for Politics' sees MacCabe and others debate the ills of the world with the avowed Marxist. In 'Harvest', Swinton's teenage twins meet Berger and his own son.

As well as filmed conversations, the material includes readings from Berger's books, and clips from his work. While each film is stand-alone, and all are quite rough-hewn, together they form a lovely mosaic. And as Swinton and co gather around the white-haired old chap with gleaming eyes, what's most striking is that the films are not just about him, but how others respond to him. The result is a particularly fruitful form of biopic.

Selected release from Fri 23 Jun.

The Seasons In Quincy: Four Portraits Of John Berger

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • 1h 33min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Bartek Dziadosz, Colin MacCabe, Christopher Roth, Tilda Swinton
  • Cast: John Berger, Tilda Swinton,

Wonderful documentary comprising four essay-films about the writer John Berger, in which Swinton and fellow film-makers hang out with him and discuss what it calls his ‘radical, democratic humanism’. Each film is stand-alone but they form a lovely mosaic, being not just about Berger but also about how others respond to him.