Master Gardner / Venice Film Festival / Drama Festival Venice Film Festival /

Arrived in Venice to collect the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, Paul Schrader, director-symbol of New Hollywood, presents his new effort out of competition Master Gardnerplayed by Joel Edgerton and Sigourney Weaver.

It must be said that few directors in the history of cinema can boast a career and biography as bumpy and complex as that of Paul Schrader. Born in 1946, he rose to prominence in 1976 when he wrote the screenplay for Taxi Driver by Martin Scorsese; shortly thereafter he also made his debut as a director, and among numerous and incredible production vicissitudes – among the most striking, those concerning the making of the prequel de The Exorcist and thriller Dying of the Light – has now managed to accumulate about twenty films in his filmography. A step back and Schrader is a young man enfant prodige of American film critics, author of an essay on The transcendent in cinema still the object of veneration among scholars of certain auteur cinema of a more spiritual imprint. A step back again and Paul Schrader is a young man who ran away from his birthplace who sees a film for the first time at the age of 18: his family, with a rigid Calvinist tradition, had always forbidden him the pleasures of the seventh art. His very first impact with the big screen, the B movie Dr Jerryll’s Crazy Nightsis disappointing, but this initiatory experience does not make the young Schrader desist from studying cinema between the University of California and the American Film Institute.

If you signed the script for Taxi Driver has always been a sort of sword of Damocles on his subsequent career, being that screenplay according to Schrader himself unsurpassed, until a few years ago his parable as a director seemed to have reached the final stages: a career perhaps discontinuous, but with an average however high, capable of turning out cult how American Gigolo and real masterpieces like Mishima: A Life in Four Chapter alongside other much more forgettable titles. In 2017, however, a happy one happened imprévu: the A24 produced and distributed First Reformed, a religious drama halfway between Bergman and Bresson masterfully played by Ethan Hawke, which received relatively good box office response and led to Schrader receiving his first Oscar nomination (for Best Original Screenplay). Four years later, at the last edition of the Venice Film Festival, he arrived The Card Collector – The Card Counter, starring Oscar Isaacs, Willem Defoe and Tye Sheridan. Just a year later The card collectorSchrader managed to complete this new one as well Master Gardner, explicitly presented as the conclusion of an ideal American trilogy by the director. Having come to Venice to collect the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement, Schrader showed off his usual one hype of tasty statements to the press – in the last days of filming he was sure he was about to die of a joint heart and lung problem, but he had preferred to go to the set rather than be hospitalized; on social media he defined his arrival in Venice as «the last rodeo», but in the meantime he talks about a new film focused for the first time on a female protagonist. What is certain is that Master Gardner adds a new, convincing chapter to Schrader’s long filmography, with all the stylistic traits and thematic knots characteristic of his cinema, and also offers us a Joel Edgerton in excellent shape and in one of his best acting performances.

It must be said that, if with previous films like Adam Resurrected or The Canyons Schrader had tried his ways, in this American trilogy he went back to the roots: on the one hand Taxi Driveron the other hand, Bresson’s cinema, already the subject of abundant investigations The transcendent in cinema. These last three films, First Reformed, The card collector and now Master Gardner seem to be as many reworkings of Taxi Driver, reciprocally applied to a Protestant pastor, a poker player and a gardener, all three seeking redemption from a hidden past; compared to Scorsese’s 1976 film with De Niro, Schrader however emphasizes the spiritual and redemptive aspects, touching on the Christological with the character of Ethan Hawke in the first of these three films. There are several typically Bressonian situations that are repeated in this trilogy, starting with topos reflective that captures the protagonist intent on writing personal notes read in voice-overa clear reference to Diary of a country priest. In a way that is perhaps not so thorough, but still incisive, all three films also deal with real ghosts of contemporary America: if in the background of Taxi Driver post-Vietnam paranoia rose powerfully, if First Reformed has explicit and almost obsessive apocalyptic-ecological references and if The card collector contains flashback violence related to the war in Afghanistan, as the past sheds light on title character from Master Gardner we enter the world and the imaginary, even tattooistic, of the American white supremacists.

Coming specifically to Master GardnerThe protagonist of this film is Narvel Roth, the head gardener of an important estate owned by a wealthy widow, played by a revived Sigourney Weaver. Their professional partnership is also sentimental and seems to be going well as preparations for an important party charity annually hosted on the estate; everything collapses, however, when the owner of the gardens asks Narvel to teach the rudiments of the trade to one of her great-granddaughters, who was orphaned of both parents and fell into a circle of addictions and drug dealing. While an unpredictable bond is forged between Narvel and the young Maya, the man will have to deal with her past by protecting the girl from the group of drug dealer friends he associated with before reaching the estate.

In a curious balance between chamber drama and road moviewith the two registers alternating from sequence to sequence in the film, Master Gardner does not reach the apex touched by Schrader with First Reformed and shares with The card collector the same, small defects and the same qualities. If there are some small stylistic or script flaws and if the protagonist’s past seems to be too summarized by the repeated flashback, all in all Master Gardner it is an effective dramatic film anchored to a scale of values ​​that the most classic American cinema had always deployed, but which in recent decades seemed to have gotten a bit lost. Complicated by repeated references to the past and by the presence of a poetic dreamlike floral scene, the structure of Master Gardner it is the classic guilt / redemption, two categories that the American imaginary is leaving behind, but that the Puritan culture from which Schrader comes from perceived as crucial: this basic moral dualism is enough to leave a certain feeling of senility behind some choices plot, but Master Gardner, while being a moral film, it is never moralistic. One of the most convincing and most successful moments, in this sense, is precisely the one in which Maya discovers, on the naked back of the character of Joel Edgerton, her tattoos dating back to her past from white suprematist and, as a mestizo that he is, he must be able to come to terms with the previous life of the man he loves. The scene could easily lend itself to bias or an excess of conciliation, but Schrader, by prolonging the question over an entire sequence of distancing and rapprochement between the two, convincingly conveys the inner dilemma of the young woman and also that of her companion.
One of the most characteristic aspects of Paul Schrader’s cinema has always been embodied in a great ability to get the best out of his actors: and from this point of view also Master Gardner it is from the anthology. One Joel Edgerton like this had perhaps never been seen, except in a film in which the actor was also a director, Boy Erased (on the psychological therapies that some hyper-conservative American Christians try to apply to young homosexuals). The character of Sigourney Weaver is dramaturgically less developed than her other roles in the past, but the actress of the saga of Alien and of Gorilla in the jungle continue to maintain a strong charismatic presence on the screen; more than good also the performance of the younger Quintessa Swindell, who became famous thanks to a brief appearance in the television series teen Euphoria, and chosen by Schrader after a failed attempt to have the star of the HBO series, the now planetary star Zendaya.

Alongside the actor’s interpretations, another interesting element of Master Gardner lies in its dialectical components: in a rather explicit way, different characters, and especially Narvel and Maya, embody different visions of the world that relate to each other. “Gardening is believing in the future” and in the regularity of nature, says Joel Edgerton’s character at the beginning of the film; to which, shortly after, a colleague of his replied: «you cannot schematize nature. It will continue to surprise you always ». If another of the typical elements of the last portion of Schrader’s film production – but also certainly Bresson’s cinema: just think of the whole first part of A death row inmate escaped – lies precisely in this attitude for which the protagonists spend their time dictating and repeating in voice over to the public of the supposed “rules of the game”, they make explicit the schemes that (they believe) reality obeys: disproving them then becomes the task of the film and of the other characters in the story. With this beautiful thematic and structural density at the age of 76 Schrader delivers his new film to the public: and if you put aside certain secondary imperfections that we have tried to dissect here, Master Gardner remains a film that knows how to return some of the most interesting values ​​of New Hollywood, primarily a certain existentialismor on the road American style, four decades after the end of that movement, traditionally indicated in the flop of Gates of Heaven.

Title: Master Gardner
Movie director: Paul Schrader
Film script: Paul Schrader
Main actors: Joel Edgerton, Sigourney Weaver, Quintessa Swindell, Eduardo Losan
Scenography: Ashley Fenton
Photography: Alexander Dynan
Assembly: Benjamin Rodriguez Jr.
Costumes: Wendy Talley
Production: Kojo Studios, Nineteenth Century Folms
Distribution: Movies Inspired
Duration: 107 ‘
Genre: dramatic
Exit: TBA

Master Gardner / Venice Film Festival / Drama Festival Venice Film Festival /