Taming The Garden


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Taming The Garden
"Filmed without commentary and with a poetic grace." | Photo: Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Macbeth's Birnham wood coming to Dunsinane has nothing on the sight of a majestic mature tree being transported across water - spectacular yet dancing on the edge of the surreal in a way that makes you think Werner Herzog might have conjured it up. It's just one of many that made the trip courtesy of the whim of former prime minister and billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili - although you won't here his name mentioned much in the latest documentary from Salomé Jashi, which focuses for the most part, instead, on the thoughts more everyday Georgians have on the subject.

Filmed without commentary and with a poetic grace, we see people coming and going about their business. Some have sold their trees to Ivanishvili - who has created a dendrological park with them. One elderly man notes his grandfather planted his, as he sits on the enormous root ball that is now ready for transportation. Others are discussing it at home, often mourning the loss of these long-term leafy residents and sometimes suggesting they've been hoodwinked, either in terms of what was promised in exchange or with regard to the collateral damage caused.

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As Jashi often keeps her camera pointed away from the trees in question - though we can hear work going on - we can see the collateral damage seems to come in many forms. There's the human impact, including a woman who breaks down at the sight of one finally beginning its journey, crowds who gather to muse on the spectacle and conversations that seem to stem from an urge to justify accepting this upheaval to the natural order. We also see that this isn't a zero sum game, with additional trees becoming casualties of the process - chopped right back, or even cut down, to make room to move such enormous beasts. Meanwhile, industrial noise splits through the birdsong and huge craters are left in the landscape, with these intrusions to the norm emphasised by a strong combination of sound design from Philippe Ciompi and, often choral-driven, music by Celia Stroom.

When the attention does shift to the prized trees themselves, we can see they are also going through wars, given fierce haircuts to make them more manageable. Noting one tree given such treatment, one local notes: "It's become so ugly now." That is part of the paradox, that these trees will be preserved, perhaps more cared for than they have ever been, but that something has been lost in the process - all because of the desires of someone who apparently has money to burn. Jashi leaves the commentary to form between us and what we see, her measured pace giving plenty of time for ruminations on the relationship between money and power and between people and their environment.

When we see the dendrological park, undeniably breathtaking with its elderly tree residents, carefully cultivated bamboo forest and exotic flamingos, the trees are stabilised by being tethered down, as though otherwise they might tear their roots up and stalk off elsewhere. After watching all that has gone before, you suspect if they could, they probably would.

Reviewed on: 22 Jun 2021
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A poetic ode to the rivalry between men and nature.
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Director: Salomé Jashi

Writer: Salomé Jashi

Year: 2021

Runtime: 86 minutes

Country: Georgia

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