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Who knew that in Finland gardening is considered a clothing-optional activity?
That’s one of the revelations of Virpi Suutari‘s punningly titled documentary recently showcased at the Hamptons Film Festival. Using gardening as a metaphor for the complexities of relationships, Garden Lovers is a sweet and occasionally tart work demonstrating that couples who garden together stay together.
The filmmaker interviews a wide cross section of couples — elderly and young, gay and straight — who share a common passion for horticultural activities, sometimes done with a minimum of clothing. Among the subjects is an elderly man who says he found his wife by placing a personal ad seeking a similar-minded companion.
“I received 104 replies,” he says proudly, before adding, “Seija was No. 98.”
One couple’s goal is to grow a pumpkin large enough to win a Finnish competition. A gay couple bickers over the division of labor in their household. Another pair has been married for no less than 68 years.
“I realized that Lotte was the only appropriate wife for me,” the husband declares, eliciting a chortle from his bemused spouse.
One elderly woman suffering from leukemia says that her doctor advised her to abandon her hobby because of the dangers from bacteria in the soil. Undaunted, she pursues it anyway, wearing a mask over her mouth for protection.
Some of the interview subjects lean toward the decidedly eccentric side, such as one man who says that he discovered under hypnosis that he’s been married to his wife no less than 65 times in past lives. The best one, he adds, was when they were young lovers in Mexico.
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Not all of the discourse pertains to the subject at hand. A crime scene investigator informs us that the typical homicide in Finland involves friends, heavy drinking and knives.
The film naturally includes many scenes of the subjects diligently tending to their well-manicured gardens, with the preparations beginning in the long Finnish winter.
While the slightness of the subject matter seems more appropriate for a short subject, the brief running time ensures that Garden Lovers doesn’t wear out its welcome. See it with the person you love, or at least someone you can trust with pruning shears.
Production: Made Productions
Director-screenwriter: Virpi Suutari
Producer: Ulla Simonen
Director of photography: Heikki Farm
Editor: Jussi Rautaniemi
Composer: Sanna Salmenkallio
No rating, 73 minutes
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