Quiet and subtle are two words rarely used to describe the French films we are lucky enough to see on the big screen in Australia, but those descriptors certainly apply to the latest to reach these shores. Conversations with My Gardener is rarely flashy and yet the overall effect is very enjoyable indeed.
Daniel Auteuil is ‘The Painter’, an artist living a relatively luxurious life in the French countryside in between work trips to Paris. Wanting to create a kitchen garden in the sprawling mess of weeds and tall grass that makes up his land, he hires ‘The Gardener’ (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), who turns out to be an old school friend. They quickly renew their acquaintance, before spending the rest of the film becoming ever more reliant on one another. The Gardener possesses wisdom beyond his station and The Painter is in need of another world view to counter that of the friends and hangers-on he usually spends time with.
This simple story is peppered with moments of joy and times of melancholy, and through it all both stars absolutely shine. Darroussin is simply excellent as The Gardener, bringing a wise experience to an affable nature. His travails later in the film are entirely believable, and he immerses himself so completely in his performance he cannot be faulted. Alongside him, Auteuil is his usual brilliant self, even though the script requires him to be relatively circumspect. His gradual realisation of the things that are important in life is powerful and moving, and Auteuil adapts his character with skill. The supporting cast don’t feature heavily – Conversations with My Gardener is essentially the story of two men and the impact their friendship has on each of them – and the subplot involving The Painter’s family problems is relatively peripheral, his wife and daughter performing cameos only.
The pacing is really the only component that may bother some viewers, with the languid progression of plot and character a real strength – but only for the patient. At 110 minutes the film isn’t long, but it feels like it is, yet the rewards for sticking with it are great.
As a counter to the glut of comedies and action films otherwise available, Conversations with My Gardener comes highly recommended. Featuring two excellent leading turns and a gentle but incisive observation on friendship and its effects, it fits uncomfortably in the odd couple genre without ever resorting to easy clichés.Rating: