By Blythe Taylor
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A real life fairy tale, where the trees move for the rich

Taming the Garden is a strange and sad documentary of how even the natural world is shaped by the wealth and power of the elite
Issue 2789
A single tree is propped upright on a floating barge

An ancient tree on its way to the garden of former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili

The image of a giant tree floating in the sea seems like an act of magic—something from the pages of a fantasy novel.

And as one resident of a coastal village in Georgia remarks, “It’s like a fairytale.” Yet this film is a documentary—Taming the Garden by Salome Jashi.

It’s the story of an elusive buyer of century old trees.

Accompanied by a dog with a little red ribbon, he scouts out the oldest and most magnificent trees across the coast of Georgia for the private garden of former prime minister Bidzina Ivanishvili.

Once a special tree has been selected and the owner paid off under the promise of improved local infrastructure, the heavy machinery moves in. It feels as though we are witnessing a collective trauma.

A chasm leaves the earth bare where villagers once grew up underneath the branches of “the beauty of our district.”

Yet the filmmakers are careful to maintain a detached relationship, plugging the gaps with superfluous still shots of the sea and close-ups of machinery.

The most interesting scenes come from the conversations between the workers and those of the families affected.

An elderly woman broods over the line of trees which shelter her home from strong winds.

The workers need to cut them down in order to make way for the main prize.

They’re not quite attuned to her hesitancy as she recounts how she planted them when she was 25 years old. A gathering of curious residents, some teary and others cheery, say goodbye to their oldest and most ­special of trees.

Our farewell is quickly cut short as we’re suddenly jolted into a park with flamingoes and other wild birds in the background.

Is this it, the villain’s lair? Concrete paths wind between manicured grassy mounds, and workers on lawn mowers are dotted around.

An impressive collection of century old trees stand on top of the mounds as an automatic sprinkler system feeds their roots.

But knowing what we already know, there is a distinct feeling of unpleasantness.

Every tree appears to be supported by a black cable, as if they cannot support themselves anymore. Taming the Garden is a quietly evocative film.

Its resonating sadness taps into the familiar loss of our natural world and the sense that we’re never fully in control of our own surroundings.

Meanwhile, the superrich uproot and claim ownership to whatever it is they so happen to desire.


Taming the Garden is in cinemas from Friday 28 January

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