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Iosseliani's Weltanschauung is one where ideology, commerce and religion are mistrusted. His language however, is not the language of despair or anger. He emphasises the importance of friendships and artistic endeavour. For him there really is a point to living and although he clearly finds typical human preoccupations absurd, there are appropriate ways to live in his world. The only really black part of the movie is a vignette at the start of the film where three gentlemen visit a coffin factory to pick their final receptacle. They all settle on the same one seemingly at the same time and then have a to-do about who will have the privilege of purchasing it. Jorge Luis Borges would be smiling. Such is the futility of competition and machismo. Those who grasp, grasp only nettles.
In this movie we follow Séverin Blanchet playing Vincent, a cabinet minister. He has luxurious offices and is sent on ridiculous ministerial visits, we suspect he may be an agriculture minister. He opens what appears to be some pathetic petting zoo, pins a medal on a non-entity, and goes to shoot animals with an African potentate. His favourite knickknack in his lavish gilded offices is a back scratcher, which bears an uncanny resemblance to an item in Ingres' famous portrait of Napoleon, only there as a symbol of state held as a sceptre, the allusion is perhaps intentional, and shows the ministerial position in an absurd light. Perhaps if Iosseliani did a movie with Napoleon in, he would have Napoleon get up and scratch his arse after Ingres had finished a session.
Notre cher ministre signs whatever papers he is given without looking at them. At one point he ignores an appointment in order to play some elaborate form of solitaire with his assistant, whilst a visitor waits in an antechamber. He even has a bench press set up for when he's really at a loose end. Eventually his resignation is forced, he is made a scapegoat out of, and his materialist wife leaves him for a more senior mandarin who doubtlessly will fulfil her burgeoning desire for baubles, gewgaws, fashionable clothes and pretentious statues. This is portrayed to us as the best thing that could happen to him. He spends more time with his friends, getting drunk and chinwagging, meeting old flames, finding new flames, playing the guitar. These scenes take up a large proportion of the film. It's difficult to describe this section, except that it's a manual on how to live. Red wine, the company of scoundrels, good eating, carousing, spending time with the angelic nieces, planting trees etc.
This is not the most practicable advice say to a denizen of the chaotic comfortless Europe of the Dardenne Brothers. It helps to have well-heeled family members, inheritances and privileges in this film. Gardens in Autumn doubtlessly plays very well to the high bourgeois close to retirement. However even a quarter-life steppenwolf such as myself can take solace that someone else out there is aware of the ridiculous commodification of life, the banality of officialdom, the futility of grasping ambition and the meaninglessness of materialism. A peaceful park bench, tapering rays of light, a little rustling waltz of dry leaves, and a hipflask offer more than the purse of Mammon can hold.
The last images of the film are shots of rustling autumn trees, not soon until the leaves drops, Carpe Diem is the message! One thing that I forgot to say and which is truly ludicrous, but is reflexive to the message of the film, is that Iosseliani has Michel Piccoli playing Vincent's mother. He's just enjoying himself, and the happiness rubs off.
There's a Georgian nod in here from ex-pat Iosseliani with some Pirosmani prints or reproductions on the walls of various apartments (a primitive Georgian artist of whom director Giorgi Shenegalaya made a masterpiece biopic).
William Lubtchansky did the cinematography for this movie, his credits are a litany of great movies of the last forty years, working with Rivette, Garrel, Godard, Varda, Straub, and Lanzmann, no fool in other words. So the film is shot well. At one point Vincent is returning to his flat, which he hasn't visited since becoming monsieur le ministre, he is clearing out his room and flings open the shutters to let some light in, this opens up to us the placid image of a young woman serenely dressed in a cloud of white at her writing table in the building across the way. Really there was thought put into the imagery here.
This movie played almost nowhere in 2006, in the US I think it was limited solely to the New York Film Festival. And it's still played pretty much nowhere. I had to make a pilgrimage to London to see it as it wasn't showing in the regions. At least a small bunch of us folks remember it and were comforted by the wonderful Gardens in Autumn.
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