Hot Docs Review: Taming the Garden (Salomé Jashi, 2021)


In a nutshell, Taming the Garden shows you long, slumbering shots and vignettes where you can observe deeply, which troubled/bored my fellow PM reviewer Ricky and in turn enriched my experiences with the film immensely. Each of these moving slide shows depicts the removal of a large tree from an unnamed Georgian countryside. Out of the backyards of farmers, playgrounds of generations of villagers, and the hedgerows of old ladies. With the help of enormous machinery. Simply gargantuan, lumbering pieces of lumber walk upright out of the woods where they have lived for hundreds of years to little music and a certain lack of pomp and circumstance.

The cinematography was consistently great and meaningful when each tree was moved. In the dark, some writhed as if Ents spurred on by the Orcs to their last-stand in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. In the daylight, throngs of onlookers mourned their loss while workers relentlessly drove piles that were comically detrimental to the trees they were supposed to protect. The great size of these trees both signaled their demise and also meant that they had to be trimmed to fit through the temporary roads built to access them. Through gaps between a forest, through the middle of a village. It was like drilling an access into someone’s chest from the skull down to remove a beating heart, only to find that the heart won’t fit through unless it is first dried and pickled.

As I watched, quite a few moments earned a Monty Python parallel. The larch. The diver walking out of the mud flats. The bickering of neighbors about absolutely nothing yet everything. Like a lot of objects, thoughts, and tomes out of Eastern Europe, this initially seemed absurdist for both the viewer and the people in the film. But it does not contain an ounce of irony. Rather, it is more pervaded by a resignation borne of impotence. The villagers and the workmen know well what they are losing and inflicting but cannot do much about it, except to sit around the fire, speaking of the beauty of trees as if chatting about the opposite sex. The repeating lack of progression – plucking of tree after tree after tree – perfectly suits the behavior on display.

Yet in all honesty, this was likely how presently well-respected gardens and exotic menageries like Versailles were built back in the 17th century: the reduction of Nature into the simplistic and gaudy forms that the human mind can comprehend and pretend to lord over. The film delivers all of its venom and sarcasm in one concentrated dose at closing, with a musical number that nicely summarizes the exercise as a theatrical farce. If you prefer your activism in a spectating flavour, this one is highly recommended.

Posted on by Gary in Hot Docs