Life in Nature. Films reviewed: The Gardener, Certain Women

Posted in documentary, Drama, Movies, Quebec, Rural, Western, Women by CulturalMining.com on May 18, 2017

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Toronto’s spring film festival season continues. LGBT films, shorts and documentaries from around the world are featured at Inside Out beginning next week. Get into shape in June with CSFF, a new festival featuring Canadian Sports docs and shorts. Toronto’s Japanese Film Festival brings the newest dramas, thrillers and samurai hits served up with sake tasting at the Japanese cultural centre. And contemporary Italian cinema is showcased at the ICFF.

April showers bring May flowers, so this week I’m looking at slow-paced movies set against natural beauty. There an arthouse drama in rural Montana, and a look at the gardens in Quebec.

The Gardener

Dir: Sébastien Chabot

The Cabots are a famous upperclass American family. You’ve probably heard the ditty about Boston:

…the home of the bean and the cod,

Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots,

And the Cabots talk only to God.

This documentary is about those Cabots, and what one man in particular created. Since the mid-nineteenth century, the family has owned a huge tract of land in the Charlevoix region near Quebec city for their summer estate. It’s an area of bucolic fields and breathtaking views overlooking the St Lawrence. But Francis Cabot (1925-2011) decided to do something more with it. He designed Les Quatre Vents, the four winds, an amazing private garden. It’s planted with perennials that bloom throughout the year, leading to waves of yellow, violets, greens and reds in sequential seasons. Cabot believed gardens should not be sterile units of symmetrical topiary, but a sensuous experience. The gardens are filled with smells of flowers, buzzing bees, trickling streams flowing past vast fields. It is divided into different sections, each one revealed as a surprise when you turn a corner or, cross a bridge. Gorgeous black and white horses, foliage from the Himalayas, a moonbridge reminiscent of Suzhou and a traditional Japanese garden complete with a hand-crafted teahouse.

If you’re expecting a hard-hitting documentary, look elsewhere. this is not an expose about the family’s history in Salem Massachusetts or its roots in the slave trade. Rather, it’s very much an homage or a tribute to the magnificent garden that one man created. If you love gardens and consider them symphonies, this one takes you on a guided tour through it all with commentary from its late creator. It’s less of a film than an experience. I had never heard of Les Quatre Vents before I saw this film,  but now I want to go there.

Certain Women

Dir: Kelly Reichardt (Based on stories by Maile Meloy)

Laura (Laura Dern) is an established lawyer in a tiny town in Montana. Much of her time is spent on a single case where the plaintiff, an older man named Fuller (Jared Harris) was screwed by his former boss. He was injured at work, affecting his vision, but because he accepted a token payment, leaving him high and dry and unemployable. She told him way back that his case is unsinkable, but he keeps coming back to her office… maybe for a different reason? Meanwhile, Gina (Michelle Williams) is dead set on buying a ranch, Her husband Ryan (James le Gros) and her teenaged daughter aren’t interested, but Gina refuses to give up. She will buy that house! But at what personal cost?

And nearby, a young law student named Elizabeth (Kristen Stewart) finds herself teaching a night class at a school four hours away from her home. The students are all teachers who want answers to their own petty legal disputes, but Elizabeth knows nothing about education… or teaching. The one bright spot is a boyish rancher (Lily Gladstone) who shows up out of boredom – she’s like a lonesome cowboy who never sees anyone except horses and dogs. After class, she offers to drive Elizabeth to the local diner so they can talk. And after a few meetings, the lonesome cowgirl shows up not in her pickup but on horseback. “hop on!” Could this be the start of a romantic relationship with the doe-eyed rancher?

Certain Women is another fine, modern-day take on the classic Western (from a female POV) by the great director Kelly Reichardt. It’s actually three separate stories whose characters briefly appear across the plots. For example, the movie opens in a cheap hotel room where Laura just had a noonday rendezvous with a bearded man (but you don’t find out whose husband he is until later.) Set against the breathtaking mountains and dusty roads of smalltown Montana, it feels like a C&W song come to life. It’s slow paced but never boring. It has that rural feel – things happen more slowly out west. This is a touching drama littered with unrequited love, and driven by the Certain Women of the title: people who make big decisions for selfish reasons, without realizing how much it hurts the people around them.

Certain Women and the Gardener both open today in Toronto; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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