The Garden of Eden



Rome International Film Festival

ROME -- Ernest Hemingway's posthumously published and most controversial novel has now become a racy but lifeless film. The nudity and sex -- lesbian, menage a trois, you name it -- make British director John Irvin's "The Garden of Eden" a hard sell. The film is not helped by dialogue that never makes it off the written page or the postcard presentation of its European locales. Costumes by Oscar-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne ("Elizabeth: The Golden Age") are gorgeous, however.

Set in the Jazz Age, up-and-coming young American writer David (Jack Huston) and rich girl Catherine (Mena Suvari) are on their honeymoon when she becomes sexually restless. She cuts her hair like a boy's, starts dominating her husband in and out of bed and picks up an Italian heiress (Caterina Murino) to spice things up.

The three start engaging in sexual games that are more cerebral than erotic or emotionally dangerous. There is no chemistry among the actors. Although Catherine tells David that as (wealthy) artists they can choose not to live by social restraints, the only boundaries "The Garden of Eden" breaks are cinematic - by more puritanical U.K. and U.S. standards. It seems patently shy about exploring the psychological or erotic nature of what lies beyond them.

Former Bond girl Murino's gives the most natural performance. Suvari proves herself adept at playing perversion. Huston though exudes little of the machismo associated with Hemingway's men though that does make him more easily malleable at the hands of his wife.

There is also a parallel, autobiographical short story David is writing, about a father (Matthew Modine) and son hunting an elephant in Africa, which is meant to show the writer's loss of innocence as a young boy.

Production companies: Tranquil Seas, Devonshire Productions.
Cast: Mena Suvari, Jack Huston, Caterina Murino, Carmen Maura, Richard E. Grant, Matthew Modine, Mathias Palsvig, Hector Thomas.
Director: John Irvin.
Screenwriter: James Scott Linville.
Based on a novel by: Ernest Hemingway.
Producer: Lorne Thysson.
Director of photography: Ashley Rowe.
Production designer: Tim Hutchinson.
Music: Roger Julia.
Costume designer: Alexandra Byrne.
Editor: Jeremy Gibbs.
Sales Agent: Tranquil Seas.
No rating, 108 minutes.