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This Can't Bring You Flowers
The Constant Gardener (DVD)
Member Name: Machair1
The Constant Gardener (DVD)
Advantages: A superb film that has stunning scenes in vibrant colours.
Disadvantages: It will leave you feeling disturbed on some level.
Region: Region 2
Number of discs: 1
Studio: Universal Pictures UK
DVD Release Date: 13 Mar 2006
Run Time: 123 minutes
The Constant Gardener is a film which was recommended to me by my daughter, and which I had the pleasure of watching this weekend. She hadn't told me anything about the film at all, so what followed was very captivating but unexpected, and which had imparted no anticipation in me of greatness or of content. I was to be very entertained, and also emotionally disturbed in many ways, as the film is not only a captivating story, but also touches on sensitive issues. I would be surprised if anyone could just watch this film on one level and not be affected by everything that the film covers.
The film was made of the book which carries the same name by John Le Carre, and it is interesting to note that the film was in the planning stage long before the book was published, as news had crept out into the production world of the content of the story.
A Brief Outline Of The Plot
Set mainly in Kenya it tells the story of a diplomat, Justin Quayle, who is an interesting character, because although his job is in international relations, he takes an almost light-hearted view of it. He is often seen tending his plants - hence the title - The Constant Gardener. His new wife however, Tessa, is far from being ambivalent to the ways of the world. She uses her relationship to uncover hidden discrepancies in the activities employed by a major pharmaceutical company within the remote villages of the region. To uncover all the complexities of the story will require a watch on your part, but I can guarantee that this film will be involving, and will certainly take you to the remote lands of East Africa.
The filming and the scenery are absolutely outstanding in this production, which was directed by a Brazilian - Fernando Meirelles. He was previously well respected for his part in the production of City of God, which was nominated for an Oscar. The production team had flown to Nairobi for a few days, and had intended to focus their filming in South Africa, where they were planning to move onto in subsequent days. However, they were so taken by the areas in Kenya that they never left other than to film in Sudan. I think my lasting memories of this film will be the scenery and the images of the people who were living around Nairobi in conditions which were so primitive and without sanitation, and yet so many had a cheerful disposition, despite horrendous adversity. The production crew liaised with film-makers in Kenya so that they accurately represented the lives of the people who live there, and this is fundamental to the credibility of the film in my opinion.
The parts played by the two central characters were outstanding. Justin played by Ralph Fiennes is portrayed superbly - he shows the right amount of interest by the character in his job, which he executes with the minimum required to perform successfully, but never goes outside his comfort zone. He really makes you see that he can perform superficially as a diplomat, skimming over sensitive issues and accepting them to be cultural. Rachel Weisz, who pays Tessa his wife, outshines him though in her superb portrayal of a woman driven by the desire for change, and the conviction to do anything that is necessary to uncover truths. This leads to some superb scenes in the film where the friction between the characters is electric.
I think in many ways this film reminds me of one of my favourite films of all times- Before The Rains. Not because of the similar story lines, as this film is about tea and spices in India, but because it has scenes of the wealthy dining together and downing alcohol in elaborate surroundings within a country torn by poverty. The difference between the western lives which are comfortable and indulgent shines through this film, as they are contrasted by the vivid images of the surrounding population who literally have nothing. I also think it is the brilliant way that the film portrays a marriage torn apart, because of the different beliefs two people have about what "is" and what can be changed.
It is not merely a drama though, it is an action packed thriller that will leave you on the edge of your seat in places. There are other characters involved, including other members of the Diplomatic Service who pad out the nonchalant contingent and who simply operate within the bounds of their job descriptions.There is a superb part played by Hubert Kounde as Arnold Bluhm, a Kenyan doctor who befriends Tessa and spends a lot of time with her as she seeks out the truth.
Reading some of the reviews of this film, I noticed something I felt had been echoed many times by others, that being the way that the scenes in Africa are filmed are rich beautiful colours. There are vibrant orange hues to almost every landscape, and sunbaked images of warm sunset shades even clothe the shanty villages that hug the towns. Even in the Sudan, where some scenes are filmed amidst horrendous unrest, images are shrouded in an intensity of colour, which contrasts to the London scenes where everything is in faded sepia, the grey concrete seems dismal and dead. It is as if there is no hope in these stone coloured walls and pavements for change or for empathy, whereas in Africa the bright colours suggest a warmth and a depth which offers possibilties.
The DVD has some excellent extras that I highly recommend including a superb interview with John Le Carre who delights in the film even though he accepts it bears little resemblance to the book, but yet still manages to capture the essence of what he felt at the time of writing. Also well worth watching are the interviews with the main characters and the director as they touch on the scene productions in depth. They explain how difficult it was to work in the seering heat of the day, and how vital it was to them that this film was real and showed life in Kenya as it is. There is also an incredible account of a conversation the director had with a major pharmaceutical company executive, which I will not elaborate on here, as I do not wish to spoil any of the DVD for those new to it, but it made my heart stop.
This film is a superb thriller which has twists and turns and which will leave you feeling disturbed in many ways by the events that you witness. It is about life on two levels - do you seek justice and campaign on behalf of those without a voice, or do you simply accept what is and keep your head low and be a Constant Gardener? The title for me has two meanings- it goes beyond the simple act of tending flowers, this symbolises a life that looks down and fails to see what is going on all around and in the distance. The film also embraces change, and reflects the way that another human can awake another, and can pull them out of their comfort zone to question and to challenge. Highly recommended.
DVD available from Amazon for £3.79 including delivery or from 0.1p plus postage for a secondhand copy.
Summary: Highly recommended