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Smelling the Forgotten Roses

Gardens in Autumn (2006)

Artificial Eye

A rather beautiful leopard appears in the film "Gardens in Autumn," languishing in the white and gold opulence of the home of government minister Vincent (Séverin Blanchet). There are animals everywhere, in fact, but this particular beast - Otar Iosseliani, the film’s writer and director, has claimed - symbolizes power, in much the same way as the ancient kings would keep menageries of the rare and wild within their palace walls.

In some ways the leopard also reflects the nature of the film itself as it remains rather tame throughout, casting a sly eye over proceedings rather than surrendering to more savage instincts and letting rip with tooth and claw. Likewise, "Gardens in Autumn" is a droll, gentle film which pokes a satirical tongue out at the world of work and politics without being sharp enough to suggest anything that is not already universally familiar.

The film never quite makes clear what post Vincent holds within the French government; it prefers to paint everything in broad, ambiguous strokes, but his photo call with a herd of cattle suggests that it is at the very least related to agriculture. Whatever his job, somewhere along the way he does something very wrong resulting in demonstrations on the streets and a crowd hammering on the gates of his home. Vincent’s wife adopts a Marie Antoinette approach to this crisis and carries on regardless, frittering away her husband’s money on clothes and a large statue of David for the living quarters.

Pretty soon, Vincent finds himself thrown out of both his office and his lovely home shortly before his replacement is marched in through the front door. Without his well-paid job, he proves of little interest to his wife, who runs to her lover while Vincent falls upon the mercy of his mistress. She, however, is less than impressed with his gifts of cheap fur coats and roller-blades and puts him out on the street. It is up to Vincent’s mother – played by the excellent Michel Piccoli in drag and looking like a Gallic Alistair Sim – to save him by donating both money and the keys to the family apartment in Paris. The latter proves to be of little use as Vincent discovers it to be both dilapidated and overrun with squatters.

Devoid of both material goods and the weight of responsibility, Vincent slowly begins to rediscover the simple, carefree pleasures of life. He gets uproariously drunk with old friends who all join in enthusiastically despite the fact that two of them have joined the priesthood. Later, he goes rollerblading down the boulevard and makes music with a woman he meets in a bookshop. Vincent is in the latter stage of his life, as the film’s title suggests, but it is there that he finds a sense of meaning and an affinity with the ordinary people that his former position had robbed him of.

"Gardens in Autumn" follows on from Iosseliani’s earlier films – "Monday Morning," for instance – in commenting on how people can become so embroiled in their work that they might miss out on the life passing by outside. There is minimal dialogue and exposition in the film which overall is rather cartoon-like in nature with authority figures, for example, presented as mere buffoons rather than fully rounded characters. Moments of frenetic farce liven up the proceedings somewhat with an especially funny scene where a political argument at a house party escalates into a full-blown brawl in the mud outside.

In these more physical scenes, the ghost of Jacques Tati casts a wide shadow and he doubtless would have appreciated both Monsieur Iosseliani’s style and his swipes at our materialistic culture. Like the films of Tati, "Gardens in Autumn" may be something of an acquired taste for some audiences. That said, it is an amusing enough experience and while it is not all that biting in a satirical sense it may well make one think about life as a whole. Any film that does that these days should be duly lauded.


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