Release: 2004-03-12 (Poland), 2006-06-26 (USA)
Director: Lech Majewski
Production: Poland, Italy, UK
MPAA rating: Not rated but you wouldn't want to watch it with your teenager. Your teenager, on the other hand, might want to watch it solo.
Cast: Claudine Spiteri, Chris Nightingale
Home video gone to the Bosch
Produced on a budget that most film productions would spend on the crew's coffee, The Garden of Earthly Delights is a shrewdly amateurish-looking film about, what else, sex and death. Set in Venice it describes several days at the end of life for Claudine, an art scholar in her thirties who is dying of throat cancer, as she arrives in the city to deliver a series of lectures on Bosch's famous triptych from which the film takes its name.
Despite the use of a single handheld Sony PD100 miniDV camera and natural spaces for all recordings, this is not The Blair Witch Project. This is a project of some ambition and skill. Although the actors have day jobs—Nightingale is a cameraman with a few bit part credits to his name and Spiteri makes a living as some sort of art producer—Majewski is in charge and is no amateur. The actors understand that it could be them for real and even keep their own first names. The whole film is well scripted and plays out like a passion play as the scenes from the painting are enacted in the flesh like a well-worn litany. And by "in the flesh" I do mean in the flesh. The amount of skin on display in this film certainly consigns everyone involved, audience included, to Bosch's special place for the lustful. Or that special place Pee Wee Herman goes when he gets collared in a movie theatre.
Appearances notwithstanding, Garden is not just an artsy, underproduced film thick on skin and short on substance. I'd say it is more of a raw, honest look not as much at death as an anticipated event as much as as a process for all involved. There is no paradox in Claudine living it up while Chris is already mourning. Each of them proceeds on the path in his or her own way. It's a very alive film in many ways and so finds a remarkable setting in a city that's as vibrantly moribund as the protagonist. And right about now I'm close to overdescribing it.
Should you watch it?
I'd say yes. It's idiosyncratic but not off-putting in its approach to a rather common theme. It's very well constructed within the limitations of the medium. There is nothing pretentious or unnatural about the sex, the dying, or even the analysis of Bosch's work, which is quite normative. In the end it is all about the fact that we're made of dirt and are so many percent calcium and so many percent carbon, just like the paint on Bosch's panels. Watch it.
Film critic style rating: * * * + (3.5/5)