2021, Movies

Taming the Garden (2021, Salomé Jashi)

You know that scene in Fitzcarraldo when Herzog drags a boat over a mountain the rainforest to show the hubris and folly of man? Well, combine that theme with Mega Movers and a really great eye and you have some idea of this amazing documentary about a man buying up the great trees of Georgia to plant them in his own private park. Yup, you read that right.

There’s a cliche about people characterized by Joni Mitchell’s line in “Big Yellow Taxi,” “You don’t know what you got till its gone.” A man comes to a small, poor rural town with a lot of money. He says, I want this thing you have and I’m willing to pay you this incredible sum of money. The villagers each agree. It is only after they’ve signed the contracts that they see that they valued the things more than the money.

Such is the way the villagers react as a rich man, never identified but actually the former Prime Minister of Georgia, buys up all their best trees. Watching the villagers deal with these changes is certainly one of the more fascinating parts of the film.

But what’s more incredible is the process, and time, and expense, and sheer wealth, required to dig up these trees and transport them across a country. (And, literally, a sea.) Watching workers spend months digging out, then supporting and eventually loading massive trees (bigger than houses) onto trailers is an incredible sight.

But the most incredible shots are saved for the transportation of the trees. There is one shot of a tree on a trailer being pulled by two trucks at night which is one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen on film. I would have loved to see that shot in a theatre but, alas, we can’t have nice things right now. The are many other stunning shots, a few of which involve the absurdity of seeing giant trees on barges.

The film, which refuses to tell us why this is happening, forces us to ask ourselves questions about what we do the environment but also why we do it. (Imagine destroying a clump of forest to move a tree.) And there are questions here, too, about the inequalities created by wealth. Will these villagers be able to afford to pay to travel to see their old trees in the private park? Did they take the money and the new roads in trade for their trees because the government didn’t provide them with adequate infrastructure?

A mesmerizing film.


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