Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu May 06, 2021 9:59 pm 
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Collecting trees in rural Georgia

Taming the Garden tells about this extremely, obscenely rich Georgian guy called Ivanishvili, the former Prime Minister who loves trees - big, old ones, hundred-year-old trees, and buys them from farmers here and there in Georgia, and, at enormous expense, his own expense but also some public inconvenience and sometimes shock to the locals, moves them to his own private compound park on his estate in Shekvetili. There are articles about Ivanishvili's tree collecting hobby here and there. Large trees are regularly moved as a way of preserving them. It's not such an eccentric practice as some may think, and moving a full-grown tree may not be prohibitively expensive. But this is the Guinness Book of Records of tree moving.

It has caused power lines to be taken down temporarily, and whole main roads into a town to be shut down for a day at times. For the trees to be taken down the road to the coast where they're ferried across the water slowly on a barge to the park, some tress may have to be chopped down along the road. How do you lift a big tree with its roots out of the ground? Well, it's a bit of a mystery but we see long pipes with drills being inserted in the ground alongside each other under a couple of trees, and then we see the large section containing the roots contained by planks. And all along we have heard the sound of metal and saws.

Jashi, the filmmaker, is often most interested, as we are, in the people. For a while she hangs out watching experienced tree men and hearing their chatter. More often she watches oldsters around a farm watching when a tree gets taken away. A 75-year-old lady remembers planting some trees when she was twenty-five. When she was that age a now 100-year-old tree was relatively young. All kinds of family histories are tied in with the old trees. Rumor has it that some old tree or trees got severely damaged in this process, or had some limbs lopped off, and lost some of their looks. A tree, though, is a being that grows more beautiful in old age. When these trees are removed, there is compensation, but no filling is provided for the empty space that is left behind. Houses may be hotter in summer. Foliage may be sorely missed.

There is a lot of complaining. Some farm family members say they felt coerced. But they don't claim that the have been cheated. Some say they will miss the tree; others say it always made a mess, it got in the way of the orchard, or they wanted to get rid of it but couldn't. Certainly Ivanishvili has the power here, the power of money, plus the power of political influence.

Ivanishvili gets the last word, though, and some objections may be stilled by what they see at the end. The final ten minutes or so of the film are taken at his park of very old trees. It's amazingly beautiful. The trees look like they belong together; this seems an over-tended but extraordinarily rich forest. Grounds are being cared for by little crawling green machines operated by two men. Wide but unobtrusive paths wander through. A watering system also wanders this way and that. Even the way it sprays is graceful. The place is in its way a masterpiece. The trees by their nature are very individual; they don't look posed or organized. One can only hope that some day this will be open to the public - but not too many at a time.

I was seduced, at least. Others simply find this whole film "surreal," and Allan Hunter of Screen Daily thinks the park looks like "the secluded lair of a Bond villain." Yes, perhaps so; but didn't you ever want to be a Bond Villain? This is a billionaire who has made a natural fantasy real. If the choice is between Bolsonaro tearing down the Amazonian rain forest and this guy, I'll go for this guy. And I liked this filmmaker's quiet observational approach and subtle use of music.

Taming the Garden,, 86 mins., debuted at Sundance Jan. 2021; it was also shown at the Berlinale, Cinéma du réel (Paris), FICUNAM (Rome), Docudays UA International (Ukraine), and Hong Kong. Screened at home for this review as part of the MoMA/Film at Lincoln Center series New Directors/New Films (Apr. 28-May 8, 2021).

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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