Gardens in Autumn

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San Francisco International Film Festival

Pierre Grise Prods.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Writer-director Otar Iosseliani has made 10 feature films, predominantly abstract comedies, but his latest, "Gardens in Autumn," is trivial at best and only intermittently amusing. There might have been enough material to justify a short but with a two-hour-plus running time, the film is lame and boring in the extreme.

This silly piece of fluff has next to no chance of drawing even a modest art house audience. A bunch of absurdist comic sketches threaded together with sparse dialogue, it has the feel and look of an improvisational exercise, the kind that's more fun for the actors than the audience. If there was a screenplay, it's not apparent. Although the title recalls an Eric Rohmer idyll, this is third-rate Bunuel with a little Fellini thrown in when Iosseliani inserts roving musicians.

"Gardens" is loosely constructed around Vincent (Severin Blanchet), a French government minister who plays cards, pins medals on prize heiffers, shoots wild beasts or chastises his extravagant, long-limbed mistress (Muriel Motte) for her spending and atrocious taste in art. Forced to resign after protesters demand his ouster, he's quickly replaced by another joker (Pascal Vincent), who brings along his pet cheetah and a group of lackeys.

In retirement, Vincent, now in reduced circumstances, becomes a man of leisure; drinking, picking up women -- he's quite the lothario -- spending time with an assortment of oddball friends and planting trees in the city park. Able cinematography by William Lubtchamsky gives the film polished its visuals. Along the way, sight gags are repeated ad nauseam -- Vincent stands on his head more often than necessary -- and attempts at broad physical comedy fall flat.

When not boozing or womanizing, Vincent visits the country house belonging to his doddering old mother (Michel Piccoli in drag.) With his (her) sensible shoes, ladylike handbag and white hair pulled back in a severe bun, Piccoli is a cross between Queen Elizabeth and Jonathan Winters. Piccoli will need to rescue his dignity after this project but he provides the few diverting moments.

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