Dir.: Salomé Jashi; Documentary; Germany/Netherlands/Switzerland/Georgia 2021, 91 min.
Georgian writer/director/co-DoP Salomé Jashi (The dazzling sight of Sunset) has portrayed her fellow Georgians justified but remorseless: whilst ex-premier Bidzina Ivanishvili, a Dollar billionaire, robs the country of its natural beauty, the ones directly concerned take the money and moan. Ivanishvili, who also has a private zoo with with kangaroos, penguins and zebras in one of his many villas near the Black Sea, has decided to re-plant old trees near his country mansion, overlooking the capital Tbilisi, were flamingos mingle near lakes. Jashi follows the re-planting on a 135-year old tulip tree, weighing 650 tonnes, on its journey to its new home.
The beginning is surreal, Fellini and Herzog could not have done it better: two men fish at the banks of the Black Sea, when suddenly a tree a tree floats along the waves, only when it comes closer, we make out the barge, which carries it. Cut to to the village of Tsikhisdziri in western Georgia, were the tree, “legally bought” by Ivanishvili, “because giant trees are my hobby, I am developing a park, I think tis is all appropriate”, is dug out from the ground, to go on a journey of forty km along the Black sea coast. Workers use diggers of all sorts and seizes, drills and pipes to extricate tree and roots, and load it on two coupled up HGVs, to drive to the coast.
The job will take about three months, and the crew of workmen compare the current enterprise with other jobs of the same kind, which they have done for Ivanishvili in the past. Planks are laid out, a new road is being constructed, leading to the coast of the Black Sea, where the tree will be loaded on to a barge. It goes without saying, that there will be collateral damage: trees in the neighbourhood of the prize object will be cut down or severely trimmed. The same goes for the trees of the neighbours, next to dirt street, where the tree will be transported. Five hundred Lai is the price per tree. The recipients of the compensation are muted about their response: “Never mind, what sort of villain Ivanishvili is, he is doing something. People never gave a shit about the trees.” One man, slightly drunk swears “I’ll never give way to the transportation workers, I am going for death”. When the deed is done, their is some regret, but also optimism: “The trimmed trees will bloom again in two years”, to which an elderly lady answers “But will I be alive then?”
Celia Stroom’s choral score ends the feature with close-ups of barge and tree, before we cut to Ivanishvili’s new park, were a bamboo forest is next to the newly up-rooted trees’, leaving the audience with the question if this is home or prison.
In foregoing the usual commentary, which tells the audience the obvious, Jashi concentrates on the images and Vox populi: the harsh realism of the work environment clashes with the poetic lyricism of he Black Sea travel. Taming the Garden is harbinger of a world to come, where not only the souls of trees will be up for sale. AS
In UK & Irish cinemas 28th January 2022