“Conversations with my gardener” A film by Jean Becker

This film is about an artist and a gardener and is set in the Provencal countryside. It is completely engaging, slow, but full of talking, gentle, sure-footed, and beautifully observed. The acting is superb…beyond good.

I’m no impartial viewer. I was myself a working artist, now work as a jobbing gardener, and love the countryside with a passion. I was given this film by my partner as a birthday present, and watched it with her on her monitor (because I don’t have or want a tele). It moved me greatly, and I laughed all the way through. It is what it says: two men talking at length, re-discovering each other after having led separate lives since childhood, when they were best friends. One, Daniel Auteuil, is a wealthy painter-artist. The other, Jean-Pierre Darrousin, is his new gardener, taken on to restore the derelict vegetable garden the artist inherits on his return to the old family home in rural Provence.

Though they sat next to each other in school and planned hilarious mischief together, their lives have taken different courses. One has lived in the posh Parisian art world and cheated on his long suffering wife till she demands divorce. The other has just retired from the dangerous work of a railway track linesman, and is delighted to land this part time job doing what he loves more than anything: gardening.

They both (we never learn their names) negotiate the return to their old closeness with sensitivity and humour. The gardener has to demonstrate his respect for his old friend’s painting (sort of post impressionist – lots of colour and not much form) despite its lack of clarity, and without understanding its meanings (if there are any). The gardener and his wife have led lives with calendar rituals of seaside holidays and works outings repeated over long decades. The painter has to disguise his amazement at his friend’s rituals, and struggles to grasp the vulnerabilities he lives with…

The gardener’s son in law loses his job as a security guard…Can’t he just get another? For him, such problems are solved by a simple phone call, invoking his networks. For the gardener they are intractable.

The film mocks the artist’s world. He demolishes a pretentious modernist art critic at a private view, yet shows impatience with the gardener’s struggle to understand the opacity of his own paintings.

In the end, though, this film is about folk re-finding each other despite the chasms which class (and sexism, in the case of the artist) has opened up between their lives.

I only have two criticisms.

I wish the film had not ended as it did, despite being greatly moved by that ending. Life is mostly just getting on. It does not need big events to make it rewarding, or to make its stories worth the telling. Colette taught us that.

The film, too, is tilted towards the life of the artist. We only see the briefest of moments in the gardener’s flat, and with his wife. The employer-employee relationship is mirrored in the weight which the artist’s and gardener’s worlds are respectively given.

I am a gardener. I look forward to another film of this superb quality just called “Conversations with my artist”.

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