THE CONSTANT GARDENER (2005)
Starring Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz, Danny Huston, Bill Nighy, Pete Postlethwaite, Hubert Koundé, Daniele Harford, Packson Ngugi, Keith Pearson, John Sibi-Okubu, Donald Sumpter, Archie Panjabi, Nick Reding and Gerard McSorley.
Screenplay by Jeffrey Caine.
Directed by Fernando Meirelles.
Distributed by Focus Features. 129 minutes. Rated R.
The Constant Gardener is an old fashioned tragic love story dressed in the garb of international intrigue. It pulls off the not inconsiderable feat of being breathtakingly romantic at the same time as it is surveying the callousness of life and death in the third world.
For no matter how much this movie delves into the inhumanity of life in Kenya, the chasm between the haves and have-nots and the evil alliances that can pop up between big business and corrupt government – what resonates even more than all the poverty and death and malfeasance is a simple and heartfelt story of opposites attracting.
Justin Quayle (played by a never-better Ralph Fiennes – and that is high praise indeed) is a somewhat repressed British diplomat who is based in Kenya. He only has two passions, gardening and his wife Tessa (played by Rachel Weisz, also in a career-defining role). While Justin is a very conservative, soft-spoken government worker, Tessa is devoted to liberal causes – constantly butting heads with Justin’s co-horts in an attempt to bring aid to the poor masses that surround them. She works at a free clinic and is very active in shaking up the status quo of the country.
As the film begins, Tessa leaves Justin with a handsome African doctor to go on a care mission. Days later Quayle is told that she has been violently tortured and killed in the jungle – far from where she was supposed to be. Whispers and innuendo suggest that she and the doctor were having an affair and they were killed for being an interracial couple. Quayle is confronted with the fact that he really did not know much about the woman he loved.
The rest of the film flips back and forth between flashbacks in which Quayle relives their relationship trying to find if he had been a fool to believe his heart and his current attempts to follow the twisted trail to explain what exactly happened. Needing desperately to believe his marriage was not a mirage, he travels all over Africa and Europe, uncovering more and more conflicting facts and stories. The more he learns about her, the more he realizes that he never really knew her at all.
A trail of government and corporate malfeasance start to clear things up, but still he can’t shake the desperation of mournful loss. As a last gift to his wife, he goes up against huge odds to complete her activist work, even though he knows that it will quite probably destroy him as well.
It is great praise to say that this passionate love gives a bittersweet edge to what is essentially a horribly tragic story of a country and a people. However, unlike so many similar films, The Constant Gardener does not allow the love to eclipse the horror of the world that surrounds it. It is just another devastation in a world that is full of them. (12/05)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: January 9, 2006.