Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Constant Gardener

He didn't really know her. When she was found murdered, he wondered who could possibly do this to her. He became obsessed until he finally found himself.

This is an incredibly intense, intricate story of a British consular official in Kenya. He's happily married, and is convinced he's doing good work in Africa by helping to provide food and shoes to the natives. But he's always apart from the Africans with whom he lives. His wife, however, leads a different life. He doesn't want to delve too intently into her life, and argues with her about how much they can really do in such a poor country.

Ralph Fiennes is perfect as a stereotypical Brit, he with the easy smile and self-deprecating blush. He's a diplomat, not too high on the totem pole. He doesn't assume too much, doesn't think he can really change anything, including his wife. He had just met her when she challenges him to take her with hiim to Africa. She falls in love with the strange place, learns the language, at least able to communicate with the children, and immerses herself in its political problems. He would rather stand apart, forget its problems, and fiddle with his garden. When she's found murdered, he wonders why. He finds himself immersed in a puzzle of duplicity and falsehoods. Was she having an affair? Was she lying to him all the time? She was certainly living a different life, one he never knew.

In the end, this is a love affair, a haunting one, proof that you may never know the one you love but perhaps, after all, you can discover her, even after her death.

The cinematography is breathtaking, but even more than that, the handheld camera and the washed-out look puts you in the moment. The rushed scenes make us think paranoid thoughts, along with our diplomat, and we find ourselves neck-deep in the mystery. The blanched camera angles remind us that we're in a different land here. The third most important protagonist in this film is Africa; it cannot be ignored.

Ralph's character finds a way of discovering the wife he never knew, of uncovering the layers of lies surrounding her death. He redeems himself through this discovery, as he discovers he must take action with what he learns. And we join him emotionally in his journey and discovery.

Thumb's up for a brilliant film, brilliantly acted and filmed. The Constant Gardener is a revelation.


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