All entries for Wednesday 27 December 2006

December 27, 2006

_The Constant Gardener_2005. Dir Fernando Meirelles


The Constant Gardener, 2005; dir Fernando Meirelles.

Running from Sudanese Tribesmen

Boxing Day plans were changed due to our host contracting a nasty bug. This afforded me the time to catch up with The Constant Gardener which was on my ‘to watch’ list. The film is well worth anybody’s two hours of viewing time – a key benchmark in my opinion. Cinematically, in its performance, in the interesting but challenging narrative structure as well as its content, it this is certainly one of the best ‘British’ films to come out since the turn of the millenium. I put British in inverted commas because the film has an important feature which many successful British films in recent years have had which is a non-British director.

I had forgotten (what a confession) that it was directed by the Brazilian Fernando Meirelles whose first film City of God made such a stunning impact both in terms of its shocking content as well as its cinematagraphy. After making these two films he certainly must be considered as one of the most interesting directors currently at work. Whether he becomes totally Hollywoodised we will have to see.

Arnold and Tessa Leaving on their mission North

This is the second feature by Meirelles. Meirelles’ first feature was City of God set in the favella or slums of Sao Paolo in Brazil. As can be seen in the awards section below the film has achieved wide critical success. Overall the film has won 18 awards and a further 40 award nominations. It is an adaptation of an original novel by John le Carré also called The Constant Gardener and stars Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz

Fiennes and Weisz in Constant Gardener

Link to programme notes from the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham
You can get a good plot summary here so I won’t reinvent the wheel.

Much of the film was made on location in Loiyangalani also see the Wikipedia entry the slums of Kibera, Kenya.

The film combines the feel of realism throughout, despite the fact that the plot is a typical post cold war conspiracy thriller involving dodgy government dealings with international drug companies and exploitation of the weak. The latter are unwittingly put at risk through the trialling of new drugs. The risk of unacceptable side effects by carrying out trials in poverty stricken countries where news is never made is intertwined with le Carre’s more familiar themes of trust, doubts, and betrayal. Here these themes work their way through the British diplomatic corps. These are themes which will be familiar to viewers of the excellent Tinker Tailor TV series of the 1970s based on le Carre’s work. The film is thus multi-layered and challenging on a number of levels whilst politically it raises fundamental concerns about the nature of global citizenship.

The realism isn’t just an aesthetic effect. The situation in Africa where the crew were filming is so gross that cast, director and le Carre have established the Constant Gardener Trust (link below) in order to provide basic education around these villages. Weisz, Fiennes, and Le Carré are patrons of the charity. It is useful to note that the charity is also interested in what it describes as ‘responsible film-making’ an aim which is shared by this writer.

Getting help to track down the culprits

The film goes well beyond the ‘worthy but boring’ kind of a film which can so often happen. Rachel Weisz’s performance is genuinely passionate and it is no surprise to learn that she persistently followed up Meirelles after audition’s because she felt deeply that it was a part for her:

Weisz gleefully admits that, as soon as she saw the script, she was desperate to convince Meirelles that she was worth getting hold of. She claims that he had no idea who she was beforehand – “he wasn’t really familiar with any British actresses” – but flew over to London from LA in order to audition, and felt no shame in pursuing him afterwards. “I wrote him a very passionate letter,” she smiles. “I really wanted the role.” (Full Guardian story here)

Film and Adaptation

A pensive Ralph Fiennes

Several of the reviews below make a strong reference to the original book and comment that sections are not included or that the contorted plot isn’t so well represented. I tend to take this type of criticism with a pinch of salt. It is clear that the spirit of the original book has been kept and that is the most important thing. Adaptation inevitably means compromises and issues of translation across different media. films should be inherently cinematic and so far the work of Meireilles excels at this. If you want the book you should read the book. Films work differently and also they are far more industrial products than books are. Whilst book publishers can have far more discretion regarding the length of thier product, especially when is from an established author, a film needs to keep within common industry practices. Distribution and exhibition are everything and has been pointed out elswhere in this site the multiplex system offers less choice with more screens rather than diversity.


The film was nominated for the 2005 Golden Globe Awards in the following categories: best film, best director and best supporting actress (Rachel Weisz). Weisz won the Best Supporting Actress at the 2005 Golden Globes for her performance in the film, as well as the 2005 Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role. On January 31, 2006, the film was nominated for four Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Film Editing, and Best Supporting Actress for Weisz, which she won.

In the UK it has led the BAFTA nominations with 10 categories including both Best Film and Best British Film. Weisz and Fiennes were nominated for the leading role category at the BAFTA. It instead won only one BAFTA for Best Editing by Claire Simpson.

Weisz and Fiennes, have won the leading role awards at the London Critics Circle Film Awards and British Independent Film Awards. Overall Weisz won five awards for the film .

The Constant Gardener Trust

Unusually the film spawned not only a critical reaction but genuine shock amongst the audiences. The powerful reaction to the content of the film lead to the establishing in the Constant Gardener Trust. Writer John le Carre and the actors Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz are all supporters of the trust. Yet again British media has shown that it can stimulate citizen response in the real world a precedent which had been set in the 1960s with Ken Loach’s Kathy Come Home which stimulated the start of Shelter the charity for the homeless.

Oxfam site dealing with issues of trade and medicines

Review Links

Film Australia review

BBC Review

BBC News Entertainment review

BFI / London Film Festival

Channel 4 review

The Guardian review

Time Out review

Tiscali review

Commentaries Relating the Film to the Drug Companies

Sonia Shah author of a book on the international drug companies writing in The Nation

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