“It may look wild, but it shouldn’t be wild,” Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf quips to an admirer early in Thomas Piper’s gorgeous documentary Five Seasons. As the camera lingers over skeletal umbel stalks planted between tufts of long grass, it becomes clear that Oudolf has heeded this personal doctrine while meticulously cultivating some of the urban world’s great outdoor spaces, from Chicago’s Lurie Garden to New York’s High Line.
Although it clocks in at just under 75 minutes, Piper’s film is unrushed and chock-full of spark and life, much like the gardens Piper spotlights. Five Seasons follows Oudolf around the world as the septuagenarian designer works on a new project, tends to his already established pieces, and explores new horticultural horizons. Each of the seasons (fall is featured twice) gets its time in the sun, with the eye-popping purples and greens of the warmer months giving way to the dusty blond grass that ripples through Oudolf’s winter gardens. It’s enchanting to see Oudolf’s gentle joy at discovering swathes of Technicolor wildflowers in the Texan countryside — and it’s just as satisfying to watch his bemused reaction to barbecue. If Five Seasons is the only opportunity viewers have to experience Oudolf’s artistry up close, Piper’s cinematography (whether through a sunny haze or a snowy blanket) and contemplative storytelling have done these gardens justice.
Directed by Thomas Piper
Now playing, IFC Center
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 13, 2018