Friday, 7 March 2014

The (Somewhat Plastic) Garden of Earthly Delights

The film:
The Garden of Earthly Delights (2004)

The under-the-radar-factor:
Director Lech Majewski has his followers on the international art house circuit but, needless to say, finds few eyeballs in North America. With this film (based on his novel Metaphysics) being done in English, one must conclude he was seeking a larger audience than usual for his work.

The review:

If you ever wanted to know the history, analytic details and stature of the work of painter Hireonymous Bosch, the film The Garden of Earthly Delights is the right place to land. If you wanted to regard an erotic and sensual tale of two lovers graphically intertwined in body and spirit, this movie may leave you more satisfied at some times than at others. And if you were looking for an artistically expressive cinematic experience with a cohesive vision, you'll either think Majewski has delivered or coped out. You know, one person's music is...ya-da, ya-da...

The plot (it may be a stretch to call it that) is not complicated - an art historian named Claudine (Claudine Spiteri) has coaxed her lover, the video obsessed Chris (Chris Nightingale) to come to Venice and satisfy their urges/requirements. Hers are with the work of Bosch; his with the construction of gondolas and related vessels. These each fit into the dissertations required for their individual academic fields...and, of course, they dig each other and want to engage in erotic play in one of the world's most breathtaking cities. Bonus. Chris records anything and everything going on at any given moment on his camcorder; no detail seems to be too uninteresting, intimate or tabooish for posterity. The problem is Claudine's throat cancer has reemerged and the news concerning it is all bad. An urgency emerges for the lovers to cover ground in what Claudine can leave behind in the world and what they can explore together in the Bosch belief that it's possible to experience heaven on earth.

Majeweski shot the movie in a not particularly high-end looking video format, with Chris' cruder footage telling much of the onscreen story for the viewer and some even grainier monitor replays filling in the gaps - sort of a progressively degrading "film-within a film-within another film" approach.

On the whole, there are almost equal moments of insight and pretension, artistry and artifice, absorption and distance, interest and boredom. As an erotic adventure there's no denying that both Spiteri and Nightingale are a couple of people who look pretty damned good with their clothes off - which for a while happens every 5 minutes or so - but the presentation of their intertwines is often done in a clumsy and cold manner. And while Spiteri delivers a fairly robust performance, her male counterpoint simply does not have enough range to deliver an effective enough characterization.

This is not to say that The Garden of Earthly Delights is a time waster. It just feels too much like art via your local dollar store - this "garden" seems like those cheap plastic flowers and plants you see in aisle 5 that may be kind of realistic looking and even semi-attractive - but they are, after all, imitations of the real deal. That's what this film comes across as. Go ahead and check it out...just don't say you were not warned.

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