NZIFF 2021: მოთვინიერება Motviniereba (Taming the Garden, 2021)

One of the best things about film festivals — and where they differ most markedly from commercial film distribution — is the way they feature a multiplicity of filmmaking techniques. This is especially evident amongst the documentaries. Whereas most of what gets released is deeply conventional (and there were certainly some of those at Whānau Mārama – New Zealand International Film Festival), you also see more poetic, dreamlike, experimental examples. This Georgian film, for example, very much follows the poetic route, with no narration or on-screen text, very few interviews, and is largely just a succession of grand, thought-provoking, curious images of trees being moved.


If the most common type of documentary is the talking heads method of personal testimony, usually about an individual subject and blended with archival footage or even recreations, then another major form — and perhaps more prevalent at film festivals — is this one, which eschews narration or on-screen text to provide contextualisation, and instead just observes its subjects, using the rhythm of the editing, the elegance of the framing and a few musical cues to draw out its inherent drama. It’s slow cinema, in which we just seem to spend time watching trees, watching trees being dug up, watching trees being transported, in slow lumbering ways because these are very large, very old trees. We never even really see the person who’s taking these trees, and only at the end do we get a sense of why they are being taken, but instead we see the communities and the villages of Georgia, where its set and we get a sense for the rhythms of life in these places. It’s not an easy sell, but it has an emotional centre along with a lot of hydraulic diggers.

Motviniereba (Taming the Garden, 2021)

CREDITS
Directors Salomé Jashi სალომე ჯაში; Cinematographers Jashi and Goga Devdariani გოგა დევდარიანი; Length 86 minutes.
Seen at City Gallery, Wellington, Sunday 7 November 2021.

A Little Chaos (2014)

I could glibly try and claim this is the best drama about gardening released this year, but that wouldn’t really be much help would it? Certainly the subject matter is niche — aside from The Draughtsman’s Contract (1982), I can’t think of any films primarily dealing with the creation of a garden (in this case, the Bosquet des Rocailles, or Salle de Bal, at the Palace of Versailles). Of course, it’s really about plenty of other things, like the tentative love affair between Kate Winslet’s Sabine du Barra and Matthias Schoenaert’s André Le Nôtre (the chief designer of the gardens at Versailles, a real historical figure), or the fluid movement of relationships and the shadings of class within the French court of the 17th century. I’m not sure how much of this detail is true to the period — Sabine is a fictional character, and Winslet seems all too English, though the garden Sabine is working on is real — but it allows for some lovely little vignettes, as when Sabine interacts with the King (Alan Rickman) incognito as if he were a fellow gardener. There’s a smaller role for Stanley Tucci as a prominent nobleman within the French court, another excellent reminder of his talent for stealing scenes, while Helen McCrory rounds out the ensemble as Le Nôtre’s jealous and unfaithful wife. As director, Rickman certainly manages to round up a good cast (as you’d expect), so even if the film sometimes seems slight, it’s never anything less than enjoyable to watch.

A Little Chaos film posterCREDITS
Director Alan Rickman; Writer Allison Deegan; Cinematographer Ellen Kuras; Starring Kate Winslet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Alan Rickman, Stanley Tucci, Helen McCrory; Length 117 minutes.
Seen at Cineworld Wood Green, London, Wednesday 29 April 2015.