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Portrait of a Garden

Distributed by Grasshopper Films, 12 East 32nd St., 4th Floor, New York, NY 10016
Produced by rose is a rose
Directed by Rosie Stapel
DVD, color, 98 min.
High School - General Adult
Biodiversity, Documentaries, Food, Horticulture, Plants, Urban Agriculture

Reviewed by Jen Wong, The University of Texas at Austin Materials Lab

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 1/12/2018

This quiet documentary traces the annual cycle of a 17th century Dutch garden, meticulously restored over two decades by an estate owner and his longtime pruning master. The film unfolds methodically, beginning in January and preceding chronologically, each month announced as a new chapter. Though others, including the gardener, a small team of apprentices, and estate chef make brief appearances, the garden is revealed through the constant dialogue of the two men who know it most intimately. They share an unwavering dedication to the endless minutiae demanded by the many species represented in the garden, each carefully credited by name as it appears onscreen.

Apprenticeship is a major theme of the film, and Jan Freriks, the 85-year old pruning master, is an endless source of empirical knowledge passed on through many generations. Though food cultivation is commonplace worldwide, here it is elevated: the goal is not volume, but quality that strives towards an idealized archetype, achieved through a harmonious understanding of natural forces. Just a few minutes of the hour and a half film are dedicated to explicit discussion of the dangers of chemically-dependent, monoculture commercial food production, but the remainder of the film - spent entirely and simply within the estate garden serves as its own argument for the craft of traditional horticulture.