In his dry and disturbing documentary Safari, Ulrich Seidl had portrayed “trophy hunting”, wherein wealthy tourists kill exotic animals in the African jungles for fun and souvenirs. In Taming the Garden – whose wry and deadpan tableaux, incidentally, reminded me of Seidl’s aesthetic palette – we’re presented with “trophy trees”. Salomé Jashi’s spare, reflective and quietly caustic documentary elucidated the fact that human folly, entitlement and megalomania truly know no bounds, and that the super-rich can desire even the most ludicrous possessions simply because they can have it. Georgian billionaire and former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili has one such hobby that nearly beats everything in its staggering absurdity; he gets specialized teams – at enormous cost and extraordinary inconvenience – to uproot massive, magnificent and ancient trees from both private lands and public spaces, and relocate them across great distances – over land and sea – in order to plant them in his personal, artificially constructed and meticulously manicured garden. Jashi covered the process approximately chronologically, albeit captured over unspecified durations and different locations – complex extractions of the majestic giants, oftentimes at night-time to possibly avert protests; equally complicated transportations using trailers and barges, with ethereally shot vistas of the trees gliding over the Black Sea being the ones that stuck most to my mind; and finally ending with a peek into Ivanishvili’s faux park, even if its owner is never seen. These were accompanied with contrasting responses of poor villagers to this anomalous act – while they accepted the money offered for their trees and acknowledged the roads constructed in their villages to enable logistics, they also expressed a wide array of emotions – from amusement and bewilderment to dismay and outrage – at this Faustian transaction.
Director: Salome Jashi