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  • TBC
  • Comedy
  • 2006
  • 121 mins

Gardens In Autumn

Gardens In Autumn

Synopsis

An aging politician loses his ministry only to gain a sort of paradise in Otar Iosseliani's breezy satire

About

"Am I the same size as him?"

In a brief prologue, three aging men argue over a coffin maker's one-size-fits-all policy - and although the sequence is set apart from the narrative that follows, it sets out the principal preoccupation of Gardens In Autumn with a deft and oblique economy. For in this film, stature and status are as absurd as they are ephemeral, and mortality cuts everyone down to size in the end.

Vincent (Séverin Blanchet) is a middle-aged government minister of unspecified portfolio who has surrounded himself with the vanities of his office: a grand home, a rapacious mistress (Muriel Motte) and exotic gifts from foreign dignitaries, including an ornamental backscratcher that perfectly emblematises his duties.

When public unrest forces him to resign, Vincent finds himself back out on the streets from which he had until recently been so removed. Helped by his indomitable mother Marie (Michel Piccoli), Vincent returns to his old haunts and rediscovers in his autumn years the simple pleasures of camaraderie, sex, alcohol and music. It is never, it seems, too late to return to a life of childlike contentment in the gardens of Eden.

The cinema of Georgian-born Otar Iosseliani (Monday Morning) is something of an acquired taste. Marrying the carnivalesque chaos of Federico Fellini to the wry observational wit of Jacques Tati, his films are poor in their overall plotting but rich in incidental detail. You could be forgiven for supposing that Gardens In Autumn, with its meandering pace, minimal dialogue and aloof camerawork, is a semi-documentary slice of Parisian streetlife, were it not for the wealth of surrealist flourishes.

Even if nothing much seems to happen in Gardens In Autumn, that is not for want of wildly idiosyncratic touches. Here cows, donkeys, a toucan and even a chained cheetah offer a bestial counterpoint to all the human affairs. Here Greek Orthodox priests on bicycles carouse late into the night with wine and women. Here everyone's home seems to feature similar (and similarly drab) paintings of livestock. Here an invalid veteran dumps the contents of a bedpan on anyone foolish enough to walk in the street below. Here a sombre remembrance ceremony erupts into drunken abandon. And here, most bizarrely of all, Vincent's sage old mother is played (impeccably, it might be added) by Michel Piccoli in full drag.

Gardens In Autumn is hardly the first film to allegorise paradise regained, but few others have done so with such po-faced eccentricity and anarchic energy. And while it promenades along to its own leisurely rhythm, stopping here and there to admire the passing traffic or to pass the whole day with friends in a bistro, this only befits a film so concerned with the second childhood of old age, when it becomes acceptable once again to spend one's time entirely as one pleases.

There will certainly be those who fail to be engaged by Iosseliani's drifting whimsy, but for the rest of us, Gardens In Autumn is the cinematic equivalent of a refreshing walk in the park, to be savoured before the full onset of winter.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Muriel Motte, Mathiau Jung, Pascal Vincent, Mouna Ndiaye, Michel Piccoli, Séverin Blanchet, Jacynthe Jacquet, Denis Lambert, Lily Lavina, Salomé Bedine-Mkheidze
  • Director: Otar Iosseliani
  • Writer: Otar Iosseliani
  • Producer: Martine Marignac, Maurice Tinchant
  • Photographer: William Lubtchansky
  • Composer: Nicholas Zourabichvili

In a nutshell

Iosseliani's ambling portrait of ripe old age goes back to basics in a changing world.

by Anton Bitel

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