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The Garden Review

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Derek falls asleep at his desk after a spot of pottering about the rockeries. He experiences a dream full of pastoral, S&M and biblical images.

★★★★★

Filmed in the desolate landscape surrounding his home in Dungeness - in the shadow of the nuclear power station of the same name - The Garden is Derek Jarman's most personal film to date. Featuring the director himself in his modest back yard (revealing his previously unknown flair for matters horticultural), it consists of a number of friends who have quite clearly been playing with the fancy dress basket, yet far from being a knockabout Beadle-style home movie it touches yet again on Jarman's political views in general and his homosexuality in particular.

Derek (Jarman), after a spot of pottering on the rockery, falls asleep at his desk. What follows is a meandering dream-journey through some frankly baffling imagery, kicking off with the pastoral, then moving slowly through S&M, the Bible, and the downright bizarre. The Virgin Mary (Swinton) is besieged by tabloid photographers dressed as frogmen, snarling coppers parade around in Santa outfits, gay lovers are tarred and feathered. As a bit of light relief in all this, Judas Iscariot swings from a rope extolling the virtues of credit cards.

What it all adds up to is a film about AIDS, all the more poignant in the knowledge that Jarman himself is HIV positive. Longtime Companion, however, this is most certainly not. While shot with a painter's eye and visually intriguing throughout, the total lack of any story, dialogue or characterisation, to say nothing of the relentless symbolism, render it all ultimately quite exasperating. And while Jarman is to be applauded for just getting on with making movies while others whinge on about the state of the British film industry, The Garden - even for an obviously arthouse project - really is a hopelessly self-indulgent sort of project.

The Garden - even for an obviously arthouse project - really is a hopelessly self-indulgent sort of project.

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