Taming The Garden Review

Taming The Garden
When Bidzina Ivanishvili, the billionaire former prime minister of Georgia, decides to create a garden on his Shekvetili estate, teams are sent to the western coastal region to coax and coerce the locals into parting with dozens of mature trees, which are transported across the country by road and sea.

by David Parkinson |
Published on
Release Date:

28 Jan 2022

Original Title:

Taming The Garden

If you need proof of how far the global balance has been tilted in favour of the super-rich, look no further than the operation to uproot, transport and replant dozens of full-grown trees to satisfy the whim of a billionaire who fancies having them in his private garden. No explanation is given in Salomé Jashi's stealthily provocative and unflinchingly compelling documentary for the desire to own a dendrological park. But the villagers having their natural assets stripped have their own views on why their one-time prime minister would want to flex his muscles at their expense. One jokes bitterly that he won't be happy until he's got the birds, too.

The sobering effect is to emphasise the insensitive ruthlessness of capitalism.

Opting to view events from a discreet distance, Jashi eavesdrops on the grumbling villagers, as they watch the excavation techniques, whose blend of industrial brutality and expert evisceration amounts to intricacy on a vast scale. Employing the same lucid lyricism to record natural beauty and engineering ingenuity, Goga Devdariani's camerawork is complemented by sound designer Philippe Ciompi's deft juxtaposition of woodland hubbub and heavy machinery. The sobering effect is to emphasise the insensitive ruthlessness of capitalism, as the plunder is loaded onto flatbeds that travel in tandem at a snail's pace, to deliver their cargo to barges that float along with a huge tree towering over their deck like the statue of Lenin that passed down the Danube in Theo Angelopoulos' Ulysses' Gaze.

One can imagine Lenin spinning in his mausoleum at this flaunting of wealth and abuse of power. But Jashi is too astute to dwell on the wrongs of Ivanishvili's manufactured paradise, which is potently contrasted at the conclusion with the scarred backwoods landscape. She also subtly invites viewers to consider the ecological effects of these transplants, as well as what they say about migration and putting down roots.

Providing a devastating metaphor for a world gone mad, this is a poetic, provocative example of how a hard-hitting documentary tug on the communal conscience can also be wittily artistic.
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