Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Portrait of a Garden: Prune Hard with a Vengeance
You know the expression “like watching the
grass grow?” In this case, it is fennel and Japanese wine berry, but it is
still unfortunately apt. Admirers will call this Dutch doc meditative but the
rest of us philistines will quickly grow restive watching the owner of an old
restored fifteenth century “kitchen garden” and his master gardener
methodically prune what seems like every blessed branch on the 3.7 acres.
Presumably you have to be a dedicated gardener to appreciate the muted charms
of Rosie Stapel’s Portrait of a Garden (trailer here), which opens
today in New York at Film Forum.
Presumably Daan van der Have is going
alright for himself, because maintaining his sprawling garden is quite an
undertaking. Rather than flowers, he grows just about every consumable crop you
can imagine. Fortunately, he hired Jan Freriks, one of the few remaining master
gardeners fully versed in traditional techniques dating back to the gardens of
Louis XIV, the Sun King. (No, he wasn’t there when they were first developed.
Don’t be mean.) Together, they prune like nobody’s business and occasionally
they discuss the weather or maybe pruning.
You could definitely call Portrait an observational documentary,
but there really is not a lot to observe. We have been down this road many
times with documentaries that quietly watch artists and craftsmen at work, but
they usually give us more to engage with. For instance, photography publisher
Gerhard Steidl emerges as a surprising passionate and rather witty figure in How to Make a Book with Steidl and Gottfried
Helnwein has plenty to say about art and history in Lisa Kirk Colburn’s doc,
but with Portrait, you’re largely on
There are maybe some lessons to be learned
about sustainable, locally grown produce or maybe just the value of working the
soil and investing a little sweat equity in your property, but under Stapel’s
approach, all take-aways will have to be absorbed through osmosis. A little context
would definitely be helpful, especially with respect to who van der Have is and
just how he can afford to put so much time and money into his garden.
Just so everyone understands, there is a
lot of pruning in this film. Seriously, a lot. Maybe that works for you, maybe
it doesn’t, but either way viewers should be forewarned. As cinema, it is just
too slight and sparsely vegetated to recommend. For those who find PBS’s Victory Garden too fast-paced and hectic,
Portrait of a Garden opens today
(10/26) in New York, at Film Forum.
Labels: Documentary, Dutch cinema