The Gardener

THE GARDENER (Le Jardinier). Hobbyist Documentary (exempt from Classification) with Francis Cabot, Anne Cabot, Colin Cabot, Raynald Bergeron, and others. Directed by Sebastian Chabot. 85 min.

This Canadian, English-speaking documentary is about a 20-acre English-style garden and the summer estate situated in the rolling hills of Quebec’s Charlevoix region in Canada. The property dates from 1902. The film features Les Jardins de Quartre-Vents, one of the world’s foremost private gardens. The garden was enlarged in 1975, and opened for public viewing in 2009.

The documentary was awarded the Prix du Public  at the 2016 Quebec City Film Festival. The  garden featured is that of renowned horticulturist, Francis Cabot II, and represents the commitment of three generations of the Cabot family. The film captures the garden in summer-time, and was shot shortly prior to Cabot’s death in 2011. Two films of the same name, but quite different content, have been released previously: a 1974 American movie, and a 2013 Iranian Film.

The documentary features several members of the Cabot family. Francis Cabot was interviewed for the film one year before he died, and at 86 he recounts his vision of the perfect garden. For him, the perfect garden must beautify nature, glorify it, sensualise it, pattern it, and be  “filled with surprise”. The film evocatively displays his garden, but also reflects the meaning of gardening for the person who created it. Brilliant photography captures the character of the garden in every way possible, the camera using long shots and wide-angle shots to emphasise patterning in the garden, and its huge expanse. The images of the flowers and trees, and the sculptured patterning of the garden are beautiful, and they are accompanied by contemplative reflections on the nature of the gardening by those who knowingly admire the garden.

Throughout the movie, Francis Cabot, his wife, friends, and the head gardener of the estate, Raynald Bergeron, provide very meaningful comment. Flowers burst into colour in a garden where there are rope bridges, cascading water falls, swing bridges, Chinese moon bridges which provide reflections to double their space in the water beneath them, and Japanese-style tea houses - all lovingly integrated into a extraordinary bucolic setting. The film provides a dazzling theatrical display of horticulture that clearly benefits from the many different countries Cabot has visited with his roving, horticultural eye - justifying his description of himself as “the master plagiarist”. He has borrowed from other gardens to help him realise a moving vision of his own.

While Francis Chabot talks about his life, his son Colin talks affectionately about his father’s decision to open the garden to public view two years before his death. The garden itself is open just four days each summer, and thousands of people line up daily to see it.

The garden is an expensive piece of horticulture. Francis Cabot is a wealthy man who has poured a massive amount of resources into pursuing his dream.  His vision of gardening, as an emotional and sensual experience, is supported affectionately by his wife, Anne, who is devoted totally to the beauty of gardens, and to her husband’s passion.

This is a leisurely film to be experienced gently. The movie in its photography and its direction, vacillates between being a film about an extraordinary “garden”, and a film about an inspirational  “gardener”. It studiously avoids any discussion of how wealth has created the garden, or how the privilege of the Cabot family has sustained it. Viewers are left, as they should be, with a sense of wonderment at what Cabot has created artistically. The garden is a work of art, and the film celebrates the artist.

Viewers will appreciate the luscious imagery which this film shows of a very special garden in bloom, and they will be educated with the insights necessary to understand the person who created it. This is a picture of nature harnessed to delight the senses, and the final credits name the flowers that one has seen.

Peter W. Sheehan is Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting

Produced by Reflextor Films, and distributed in Australia by New Farm Cinemas

Released October 11th., 2018

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