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October 2, 2006

Gardens in Autumn, 2006

gardens_autumn.gif Otar Iosseliani's understated and reassuringly familiar abstract comedies are incisive, universal expositions on human absurdity, the complications of modern life, and the seasonality of fortune, so it is particularly satisfying to see the unremarkable (anti)hero of his latest film, Gardens of Autumn break through this corruptive and dysfunctional cycle of power, materialism, and social mobility to find some measure of happiness. The film's opening sequence provides a wry and irreverent glimpse into Iosseliani's acerbic satire on social behavior, as a handful of customers browse through a limited product selection at a coffin maker workshop, staking their claim on their preferred unfinished caskets in relative civility until several potential buyers begin competing for custody over a particular, one-size-fits-all "custom" model. The absurd juxtaposition of insatiable consumerism even in the face of mortality provides an insightful preface to the film's subverted expectation, as possession and privilege become intertwined with the mundane reality of inevitable death. In Gardens in Autumn, the unlikely hero is Vincent (Séverin Blanchet), a sad-eyed, rumpled, middle-aged cabinet minister with an attractive, shopaholic mistress, a distracted, coddling mother (in the hilarious casting of Michel Piccoli in drag), a string of jilted lovers (and almost as many adopted, commemorative exotic animals), and a meaningless, time-wasting bureaucratic job. Once an influential political appointee with seemingly important ceremonial (albeit nebulous) responsibilities (an early episode of a goodwill diplomatic visit with an African dignitary over the hunting of wild game, and a subsequent ribbon-cutting duty on a farm inauguration suggest an agriculture and wildlife post), Vincent's comfortable life is upended (even literally, as he resorts to standing on his head to in an attempt to regain his composure after the traumatic ordeal) when a widespread scandal and public protest leads to a change in the political winds, and with it, his forced resignation from office and ouster from the well-appointed, government furnished estate that he has called home for years. Returning to the shuttered family apartment in the working class neighborhood of his youth only to find his home overrun by squatters, Vincent soon finds refuge in the company of old friends (including a street artist played by Ioselliani) and former lovers as he settles into a carefree, bohemian life, drifting through a series of makeshift shelters alongside his eccentric - and often inebriated - companions and strange bedfellows. Iosseliani's familiar aesthetic of medium shots, muted humor, near wordless scenarios, and endearing, representational characterizations proves especially suited to the film's timeless, modern fable of a person's fall from grace, transforming the humiliation of the vanquished into the humble victory of the everyday hero, reinvigorated and impassioned by the quotidian pleasures found in the often overlooked minutiae of quiet self-liberation.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 02, 2006 | | Filed under 2006, New York Film Festival


Great rendition of the film! Beautifully written. What a crazy synopsis though... who would want to go for this? ;)
As I told you, the laid-back seemingly improvisational craft isn't my cup of tea, but I might have overlooked the tongue-in-cheek absurdity. Actually your mention of "sad-eyed" makes Vincent look like a sorry Droopy, and the whole film like a cartoon. Piccoli is a bit of a cartoonish lady too.

Jean Douchet, famous Cahiers critic and lecturer, plays the fat customer in the coffin prolog.

Posted by: HarryTuttle on Oct 02, 2006 6:22 PM | Permalink

That's funny! I've seen Jean Douchet in a conversation with Arnaud Desplechin, but I didn't make the connection. I loved how he was bickering with both the short and tall customers over the same custom coffin. :) Good comment about the "cartoonish" nature of Iosseliani's casting, they are in a way. He casts based on physicality and face types, which is why he tends to cast unknowns and amateurs. Even Piccoli, who's immediately recognizable, is "disguised" in a way to be more caricature than character. And heck, I'd pay big bucks to see Piccoli slide head first on a plank into the mud any day!

And yes, Iosseliani is kind of laid back and effortless. He reminds me Ozu a bit, not stylistically, but in the sense that all of his films are "similar" to each other, and there's also a kind accessible facileness about them (not in a derogatory manner).

Posted by: acquarello on Oct 02, 2006 7:07 PM | Permalink

In his interview with Michel Ciment, he said he didn't like to cast famous faces, because they bring in their mediatic persona in the film and distract the audience from the written character. And I like this conception. Afterall this Séverin Blanchet plays out real well. (Although I would argue that for a secretary of argriculture, he doesn't look dignified enough, too much of a nobody)
Re: cartoonish aspect. It seems Iosseliani would do a good job at a Tintin film adaptation (Wes Anderson was my other guess).

Posted by: HarryTuttle on Oct 03, 2006 5:55 AM | Permalink

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