Film Scouts Diaries

2007 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
Diary #4

by Henri Béhar


Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, July 5 – The very title of the French entry, Conversation With My Gardener, by Jean Becker, tells it all. It focuses on two characters and hinges on the central performance by Daniel Auteuil and Jean-Pierre Darroussin, two seasoned actors among the most popular in France. The "Me-My-Moi"of the title is a successful, suave but jaded painter (Daniel Auteuil) who leaves Paris to return to his family home in the country. Opening the doors and windows of the country house which had not been lived in since his parents' death (watch out for the metaphor), the painter places an ad in the local paper looking for a gardener to tame the wilderness that has taken over his garden. Much to his surprise, the ad is answered by an old friend from elementary school (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), whom he hasn't seen in decades. And they talk, and they talk, and they talk. Of course, although they lead very different lives, both men realize, much to their delight, that the bond still exists between them and their friendship rapidly deepens. Of course, one fears the retread of the age-old tale of the simple but wise character changing the outlook of the cynical sophisticate. But director Jean Becker -- helped immeasurably by the wonderful rapport between the two leads -- manages to avoid that pitfall. A charming, gently paced piece, Conversation With My Gardener also manages to touch upon some of the socio-political tensions that affect today's French society: the quasi impossibility for young people to find jobs (let alone decent jobs), a healthcare system that may be on the verge of implosion… But it does so with a lightness of touch that is, well, unmistakenly French.


In our celebrity-driven times, there is no tête-à-tête configuration that film fans, filmgoers, radio listeners and tv-watchers are more familiar with than the interview situation. But do we know exactly what happens behind closed doors? With Steve Buscemi filling in duties both in front and behind the camera, Interview will tell you that what you read in your magazines or watch on television is (can be) but one ripple of a potentially gigantic psychological tsunami. Buscemi portrays Pierre Peters, a cynical war correspondent subbing for a "fluff" writer-colleague to interview soap opera star Katya (Siena Miller). After a first (and awkward) meeting in a restaurant, where, predictably, Image collides with Image and Cliché with Cliché (Spoiled Celeb v Smart Scribe), the duo moves to the interviewee's loft. And we will stay there until the end, as the collision between those two entirely different worlds grows into a complex pas de deux where both participants gradually reveal their most intimate secrets to each other – or do they? Who is actually confessing what? Who is manipulating whom?
Interview was one of three films that controversial Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh planned on making English versions of with Hollywood actors. After Van Gogh's death in 2004, the Interview project was picked up by Steve Buscemi whose oeuvre as a filmmaker is developing in a discrete but strong fashion – check Trees Lounge (1996), Animal Factory (2000) and Lonesome Jim (2005). The dialogue is outstandingly sharp and throughout this verbal fencing (words used as lethal weapons, anyone?), Sienna Miller is more than a match for Steve Buscemi. And that is no mean compliment.


The face-à-face that is at the heart of Alexej Popogrebsky's Simple Things (Russia, in competition) happens about one third into the film. Before that, we will have followed the trials and tribulations of Serguei (Sergey Puskepalis), a badly paid hospital anaesthesiologist whose life, let's call a spade a spade, is the pits. He lives in a St-Petersburg communal apartment which he shares with a Georgian driver and an crippled old woman, he's just lost his driver's license and now has to cope with his pregnant wife and his daughter leaving home for what appears to be a questionable relationship. A resourceful fellow, Serguei plays the Russian health system to the hilt ("You want the regular painkiller or the better one? -- What's the difference? -- The regular one will give you nausea and palpitations and... -- How much?" You get the idea). To make ends meet (and placate his creditors), he accepts to look after an ageing actor (Leonid Bronevoy), who has signed a deal with an agency which will get his apartment in exchange for receiving private care until he dies. As the famous patient burdens the anaesthesiologist with his petty demands and whims, their relationship develops, and some sort of a mutual trust, until one day the actor makes him an enticing offer that involves a valuable painting…

Overall, it is an ultimately optimistic story that, set against the bleakness of ordinary people's lives, highlights their ability to adapt themselves to any kind of situation. Some critics refer to this film as "Mike-Leigh"-ish -- and why not? The scenes between the two men are priceless, thanks to Sergey Puskepalis, of course, but also, in a large part, to Leonid Bronevoy, a Soviet-era star who looks a bit like our Norman Lloyd and who, we are told, has not appeared on stage or screen in nearly 20 years. If that is the case, what a pity, what a waste!

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