Portrait Of A Garden


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Portrait Of A Garden
"The sheer number of plants Daan is cultivating is staggering and each is exquisitely framed in a style that recalls the Dutch Masters - de Hooch's apples, drinking in the light."

There are some subjects that not many people would think to capture on film but that have a natural affinity for the medium. Gardening might be considered one of the slowest art forms - it has taken Daan van der Have 15 years to create the garden pictured here, working on the remains of a 385 year old kitchen garden on a Dutch estate, which had fallen into ruin after just a few years of neglect. It will take another five years for Daan to finish his work. He's an old man now, but he still looks forward to the day when he will sit under the long pear arbour, feasting at a long table with all that glorious fruit hanging above. Though it cannot carry us through all that history, Rosie Stapel's graceful documentary lets us see something of the processes involved, and lets us appreciate the way the garden changes over the shorter timeframe of four seasons.

Beginning in winter, when everything is limned with frost, Portrait Of A Garden develops like a slowly unfolding blossom; but as with nature, its apparent gentleness conceals furious action. Every day Daan is outside working on something, planning as he labours, chatting to pruning master Jan Freriks. Every day nature is striving to undo his work, with beetles boring into fruit, weeds springing up in every untended spot, mould forming on leaves. This is art and this is war. Daan is an expert strategist but sometimes there is nothing he can do. This is one reason why he grows multiple crops, moving them around o make the most of what the soil has to offer. He has a curious way of talking about this, highly technical but still rooted in Renaissance thinking with no reference to the modern science of soil chemistry. What he knows is, nevertheless, enough; most of his crops are flourishing.

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Moving slowly, observing, in and around dense bursts of spoken information, Stapel's camera takes in those crops, beautiful and bountiful. Those pears, the lemos, the quince; a bright burst of rhubarb lurking triffid-like below glass; lettuces, gooseberries, globe artichokes, an abundance of herbs. The sheer number of plants Daan is cultivating is staggering and each is exquisitely framed in a style that recalls the Dutch Masters - de Hooch's apples, drinking in the light. Those who are used to films that move at a more rapid pace may be surprised by how easy it is to become absorbed by this; the slow rhythms, the beguiling imagery, Daan's quietly authoritative tones shot through with warmth and humour, combine to produce a hypnotic effect, making the whole experience feel like a dream.

Here, on film, Daan's art is condensed into a form more accessible to the uninitiated. It is lovingly preserved, ensuring that when his job is complete nobody need take the garden for granted, and by capturing his words it preserves some of the lore whose loss has worried him. Keen gardeners will find much that is useful here; others will simply enjoy watching a master at work. Deceptively simple like the garden itself, this film is a delight from start to finish.

Reviewed on: 15 Dec 2016
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A study of one man's work in creating a beautiful kitchen garden.

Director: Rosie Stapel

Writer: Daan van der Have, Rosie Stapel

Starring: Daan van der Have, Jan Freriks

Year: 2015

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: Netherlands


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