Dir/scr: Otar Iosseliani. Fr-It-Russ. 2006. 117mins.
The then-Soviet republic of Georgia lost one of itsmajor cultural assets when it allowed non-conformist film-maker Otar Iosseliani to 'emigrate' professionally to France in 1984. Since then,he has regularly regaled audiences with his wry, deadpan, post-modern comedies(though arguably none has equalled the poetic films he made in his nativeland). Gardens InAutumn is a political fable with all the idiosyncratic hallmarks of the Iosseliani style but it is one of his less successfulefforts, dogged as it is by a certain thematic and directorial fatigue.
Iosseliani, like Jacques Tati (onceof his influences, along with Rene Clair) is an acquired taste and Gardens In Autumn will not make thiswitty eccentric any new converts, instead following the festival and arthouse route of his previous films. In France, the filmopened on Sept 6 to modest results; international audiences get a chance tocatch the feature at Rome Film Fest next month.
With his quirky, low-keyhumour, Iosseliani deals with how lonely it is at thetop and how sweet it is to get back to ground level with the rest of the world.
Its humdrum hero, Vincent (Blanchet) is a government minister who is ousted followinga massive street protest outside his offices. We never learn what he isminister of and what he has done wrong, though early scenes show him visiting atribal African leader and handing out decorations in the French boondocks. (Iosseliani suggests that he belongs to a left-leaning government:the Internationalebreaks out on the soundtrack when his replacement is named).
Having lost his perks, swankresidence and costly mistress (who spends small fortunes on acquiring hideousneoclassical Greek statues), our hero returns home to the labyrinthine flat inthe populist quarter where he grew up and which is now squatted by a communityof boisterous African immigrants.
He also renews contacts withhis mother (Piccoli), and the sundry neighbourhoodtypes who reintroduce him to the simple joys of social (and less social)drinking. After some two hours of eccentric encounters and shy romance, ourhero finds a new lease on life.
Iosseliani, who favours long takes andrarely details a scene with close-ups, adds no new wrinkles on a over-familiartheme and at a two-hour running time the action becomes repetitive. Worse, his useof non-professional players (which includes himself as a tippling artist) cangive the proceedings an amateur look that works against the usualsophistication of his directorial style.
In an inspired departurefrom his usual working methods, however, the film-maker casts Michel Piccoli in a bizarrely funny secondary role as the hero'smother, herself a resourceful small-town mayor. Audiences may also recognisecomedy film-maker Pierre Etaix (a one-time Tati collaborator) in the film's prologue in whichcustomers haggle over a casket in a coffin-maker'satelier. The scene has no direct relationship to what follows, but it istypical of Iosseliani's obliquely witty sense ofstorytelling.
Pierre Grise Productions
Cinema Without Frontiers
Les Films du Losange
Manu de Chauvigny