Sunday, October 23, 2016

Gardeners, arise! Rosie Stapel's gorgeous doc, PORTRAIT OF A GARDEN, is your new must-see

Who'd have imagined that spending 98 minutes (that span a full year) inside the incredible garden on a large estate in The Netherlands could provide such pleasure and interest? For anyone who is a gardener, or loves gardening, TrustMovies should think that PORTRAIT OF A GARDEN will be a "must." Even for someone like me, who hasn't tended a garden since around age eight, the movie proved captivating. It is certainly one of the most beautiful visual and philosophical looks at the productive collaboration between man and nature to find its way onto film.

The filmmaker, Rosie Stapel, shown at left, is a relative newcomer to the documentary field, though she has worked in art departments, on production design and as an art director for nearly two decades. Though this is her first film, as director, producer, cinematographer and editor, she has very skillfully woven together visuals, conversations and ideas into a tapestry that takes us through a full year in the garden, beginning in January, 2013. Winter has set in, yet there is, as always, plenty to do, and her film's two protagonists, who, we see constantly at work -- Jan Freriks, the 85-year-old pruning master (shown below, left), and Daan van der Have (below, right), the estate's owner and gardener -- must get that job done.

The movie may put you in mind of that little-seen gem, A Little Chaos, directed, co-written by and starring the late Alan Rickman, and not only because some of the vegetation here is descended from cuttings from the palace garden of King Louis XIV, but many of the rules of pruning used in this garden date back to that time period, as well.

The pruning master and the gardener have a number of conversations throughout the film, and these are pertinent not only to the garden but to the lives we're living today, and to the way the world is changing. The film's subtitle, Everything Has Its Time, turns out to be applicable not just to the pruning and harvesting -- of which we see much -- but to our world outside that garden, as well.

Unless you are yourself a gardener or are very well-acquainted with a multitude of fruits and vegetables, you will not have seen so many varieties as you will here. While we don't learn all that much about any single one of these, the very act of seeing them and knowing that they exist proves its own reward.

What we do learn is something of the character of the two men we spend most time with: Daan and Jan. The former tells us early on, "To have a beautiful garden, you have to have a very strong desire -- and also be able to deal with the fact that this desire will never be fulfilled." Learn to love what is beautiful and special, he advises, rather than feeling only the frustration. The old-timers have a dry sense of humor, too. "I wish I were 60 again," says Jan. "You mean really young," answers Daan.

Along with all the pruning, and eventually the copious harvests (really something to behold!), we learn some interesting history (fifty years ago, folk spent nearly half their income on food; today it's more like 10 percent) and even a get a recipe or two (fish fried on a fig leaf will capture a delicious taste in the skin). We watch as apprentices are trained, mildew hits the grapes, and seasons change from (seemingly) barren (below) to verdant and lush (at bottom).

By year's end you will have experienced a garden as beautiful and fruitful as any you're likely to see -- by a filmmaker we are sure to hear from again -- and soon, I hope.

From Grasshopper Film, in Dutch with English subtitles, Portrait of a Garden opens this Wednesday, October 26, in its theatrical premiere for a one-week-only run at New York City's Film Forum. It will then play The Screen in Santa Fe on November 18, Time & Space Limited in Hudson, New York, on November 27, and then the Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio, come February 5, 2017. Click here (then click on Where to Watch) as the weeks go by to see if further playdates/cities have been added.

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