Film Reviews

THE CONSTANT GARDENER

By • Aug 31st, 2005 •

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Focus Features presents in association with the U.K. Film Council a Potboiler production in association with Scion Films
R-Rated / 130 minutes

QUOTE: Fiennes cries again playing a boob diplomat with a wife who is jeopardizing his career and her life. She never talks to him about her dangerous secret life.

I just had lunch with someone who had read John le Carre’s novel and thought it was great. Sadly, I cannot recommend this dense movie directed by the brilliant Brazilian director of CITY OF GOD, Fernando Meirelles.

The film opens with the death of Justin Quayle’s (Ralph Fiennes) wife. Justin’s good friend and colleague, Sandy Woodrow (Danny Huston), tells him there was a horrible road accident involving his wife. Justin keeps watering his plants. He feels sorry for Sandy who had to bring him the bad news. Justin is a complacent British High Command diplomat who likes to garden at his house, office, and finally, in Africa where the tragedy takes place. We go back to how Justin met his wife. Tessa (Rachel Weisz) harangues Justin after he gives a political talk; he hails her bravery for speaking out. They promptly marry. Justin is off to Kenya, Africa to plant flowers. Tessa asks to go along and begins working with a black doctor (Hubert Kounde) visiting villages.

Justin doesn’t know anything about his friend Sandy or, for that matter, exactly what Tessa is up to in the slums. Justin starts to investigate the rumors of Tessa’s infidelity and who she really was and what she was doing in Africa while he was gardening. Justin is shocked to find out that Tessa was on the trail of multinational drug companies testing drugs on poor people in the Third World. He starts poking around and finds himself the only white man in Kibera, a slum in sub-Saharan Africa. This is the terrain best exploited by Meirelles, who knows how to capture the poverty and chaos of slums. The silly “happy” ending left me with the conclusion that Justin deserved his fate.

The problems with THE CONSTANT GARDENER are: it takes place in the slums of Africa, the British High Command is run by a bunch of Alec Guiness-acting aristocrats, Fiennes cannot play expressive roles (he was fantastic in the riveting film SPIDER), and Weisz is too intelligent an actress to slip into the carefree-troublemaking role of safety-be-damned Tessa. I like Mierelles’ directing, but he needs more shocking material to showcase his distinctive creativity.

In W Magazine’s September 2005 issue, Marshall Heyman interviews Meirelles. The former director of Brazilian commercials bought the rights of Paulo Lins novel “Cidade de Dues” and invested $2.9 million of his own money to adapt it. With his co-director Katia Lund, Meirelles filmed his adaptation and sold the American and some foreign rights to Miramax. “City of God” grossed $25 worldwide, “but the director received “not even a dollar” beyond his initial investment. Needless to say, he’s not inclined to work with the Weinstein brothers again.

“”I don’t like the way they do business. I don’t like their lawyers, ” Meirelles explains. (A Miramax spokesperson says the company has fulfilled the financial obligations of its contract with Meirelles.) “But because the film was so well promoted, now I can choose whatever I want to do. I can go like this” -he snaps his fingers- “and the money will come.”

Okay. So Meirelles signed a lousy contract with Miramax. Now he’s famous and directed a movie budgeted at 10 times the size of his first feature.

The W Magazine interview continues: “Meirelles admits that he was astonished by the carte blanche given to a director of a big-budgeted feature. When he mentioned, for example, that he might like camels for one scene, the crew jumped to the task. (When he heard that the animals would be flown in from Somalia at great expenses, however, he demurred.) “Everything you say on set, people believe,” Meirelles says with a chuckle. “They don’t say no. They only say, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’ It was really scary.”


Cast:
Justin Quayle: Ralph Fiennes
Tessa Quayle: Rachel Weisz
Sandy: Danny Huston
Sir Pellegrin: Bill Nighy
Marcus: Pete Postlethwaite

Credits:
Director: Fernando Meirelles
Screenwriter: Jeffrey Caine
Based on the novel by: John le Carre
Producer: Simon Channing Williams
Executive producers: Gail Egan, Robert Jones, Donald Ranvaud, Jeff Abberley, Julia Blackman
Director of photography: Cesar Charlone
Production designer: Mark Tildesley
Music: Alberto Iglesias
Costumes: Odile Dicks-Mireaux
Editor: Claire Simpson

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