Conversations With My Gardener

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Palm Springs International Film Festival

Studio Canal

PALM SPRINGS -- Rooted by another effortlessly accomplished Daniel Auteuil performance, the tender, low-key comedy "Conversations With My Gardener" makes for an intimate, rewarding excursion to the French countryside.

At the core of the film, based on a novel of the same name, is a deftly played two-hander between Auteuil, as a respected Parisian artist, and Jean-Pierre Darroussin, as the gardener he hires to rejuvenate the long-neglected garden outside of his rural family home.

Auteuil plays a man peering up from the depths of a particularly tricky midlife crisis -- his wife is about to divorce him; his mistress is two-timing him with a pompous idiot of a younger man; and, to top it all off, he's in a creative funk.

Taking refuge at the rustic family villa where he was brought up, he has posted an ad for someone to carve out a vegetable garden on the parched property. The first person to respond turns out to be Leo (Darroussin), an old school chum and retired railroad worker who's always been happiest when tilling soil.

Although the two men come from different social and professional backgrounds, they discover they enjoy each other's company, musing about life, the universe and its simple pleasures, with each taking away something of value from the lively exchanges.

Director Jean Becker, who wrote the airy, articulate screenplay along with Jean Cosmos, maintains a neatly tended garden himself, keeping things unfussy and uncluttered, encouraging developments to unfold at their own organic pace.

The arrangement provides plenty of space for Auteuil and Darroussin (a favorite actor of filmmaker Robert Guediguian) to toss that terrific dialogue back and forth with expertly calibrated precision.

Although Becker ultimately opens up "Conversations" to include several supporting characters, including the men's wives as well as Auteuil's daughter and mistress, the film finds itself on the most fertile ground during those philosophical garden-side chats.

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