Paradise lost

ENVIRONMENT: A single man wields enough power to uproot the living artifacts of his country’s collective history and memory.
Director: Salomé Jashi
Producer: Vadim Jendreyko, Erik Winker, Martin Roelly, Salomé Jashi
Country: Switzerland, Germany, Georgia

Premiering in the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, Salomé Jashi’s Taming the Garden is a multi-prism meditation that begins with the simplest (if strangest) of premises and slowly, nearly imperceptibly, expands to become a cautionary tale for all.

Taming the Garden, a film by Salomé Jashi

By force

Through a series of painterly images, the award-winning director, who was born in Tbilisi and whose 2016 doc The Dazzling Light of Sunset nabbed the Main Prize at Visions du Réel’s Regard Neuf Competition, takes us on a fairytale-like journey to the Georgian coast. It’s a magical locale where century-old trees, some the size of small skyscrapers, have stood watch over generations of villagers. But the trees are slowly disappearing – or, more accurately, migrating, being uprooted by force (not unlike the perpetually unstable country’s own citizens). This disturbing disruption isn’t due to climate change or as the result of any existential threat – unless you consider a single wealthy man with a destructively bizarre hobby an omen of things to come.

Through a series of painterly images, the award-winning director…takes us on a fairytale-like journey to the Georgian coast.

While the impoverished villagers have always viewed the green giants as an integral part of their community, this never-named outsider – who also happens to be the most politically powerful man in the country, hence folks are reluctant to refer to him directly – sees them as trophies. Traveling to the far-off coast he collects tree after tree, transplanting them one at a time to his luxurious private garden. It’s a herculean process that involves a slew of often exhausted and exasperated workers, and a long trip across a tranquil but moat . . .

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Lauren Wissot
A US-based film critic and journalist, filmmaker and programmer.
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