Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Constant Gardener (Meirelles, 2005)

I am glad to have seen The Constant Gardener. I think it is a film with noble intentions, namely to draw attention to the conditions being endured by millions on the African continent. I am glad to see another film by Fernando Meirelles who proves that the skill and confidence with which he guided City of God was no fluke. Yes, he reins himself in a bit and does not employ nearly as many aggressive stylistic flourishes. But it is clear that he understands his film’s setting with a sensitivity and passion that few filmmakers can match. It also helps that he has two charismatic leads in Ralph Fiennes, who plays a highly intellectual but timid diplomat, and Rachel Weisz, who plays the outspoken political activist that gets herself into big trouble when she finds out too much about the wrong sleazy corporation. The supporting cast, led by Pete Postlethwaithe, is also consistently good and I liked the immediacy of the cinematography, as well as the invigorating beats of the film’s soundtrack. But I don’t know … something is missing. Maybe it is the fact that the fictionalized scandal that lies at the heart of the film’s plot seems trivial when compared to the very distressing conditions that exist in the slums that serve as the background for much of Meirelles’ film. From the Internet Movie Database, I learn that a trust fund was set up to help the inhabitants of the village near where the film was shot. Well, good. But as I was watching, I couldn’t help but feel that we were wasting our time hunting down the shady villains of the author’s imagination when a filmmaker with Meirelles’ courage was perfectly capable of sinking his teeth into some of these real life bastards. If the film has a shortcoming, it is that there is little opportunity to truly become invested in the quest of Fiennes character. We know that he will spend much of the film’s running time asking more and more questions until he finds out what he needs to know. We feel like we should be angry along with him, but it is too difficult to find a tangible target for our outrage, as we watch him battle against the omnipresent ‘they’. Ultimately, I felt like The Constant Gardener bore more resemblance to a film like The Bourne Supremacy than it did to something like The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum. By this, I mean, it seems to work better as a thriller with political trappings than it does as a film with real political bite. It’s a good film, but not really the film I was hoping for.



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