A Singular Garden
Places are inanimate entities that nevertheless are ever-present in the process of human development. Century-old buildings, for instance, have silently overseen different phases of socio-political and technological transition, and these key moments somehow become embedded within their essence, serving as a testament to different times and different moments in evolutionary history. A witness to both tragic and celebratory moments, these objects have a lot to tell, if closely inspected.
‘Um Jardim Singular’, which translates from Brazilian Portuguese to ‘A Singular Garden’, tells the story of an old garden in Rio de Janeiro, exploring both its past and its current state of a silent watcher of daily human activity. In pact, the perspective here is rather unique: while an overwhelming majority of film projects give the main roles and, implicitly, the perspective to one or more central human characters, the main character in this case is the garden itself, and its ‘interactions’ with humans become the main theme of the film.
The filmmakers behind this project chose to keep complete silence over the exact nature of their study objective, the garden. Apart from the fact that the location can be easily intuited from the collection of frames and landmarks, nothing concrete is offered to act as a real-life anchor. Especially for audiences outside Brazil, this can be a source of confusion and lack of clarity – especially since the few written artefacts that appear in the film are not translated via subtitles. The authors might want to create a more universal experience in itself, which is laudable, but comes at odds with the main attribute of the garden – its uniqueness.
Visually, the roughly 13-minute experimental film excels: its frames are always beautiful and are put together in a dynamic intertwining fashion – one shot complements the next due to expert editing techniques and a good integration with the audio side – not only the excellent score in terms of both content and use, but also the diverse sound effects employed. For instance, old images of a manor, presumably built within the garden area. Are accompanied by the sound of construction tools and an occasional swish of a whip – suggesting, perhaps, the use of slave labour in the building process?
While spectacular in its own right, the film opens too many questions regarding its study object and does not explain most of these, if any. Without a plot or a clear, cohesive main focus, ‘A Singular Garden’ becomes cumbersome and can cause its audiences to simply lose interest after a while – it is perhaps too experimental for its own good. Having said that, it still features a number of beautiful moments which speak volumes about how inanimate objects can capture within them the nature of different times and preserve it in a continuously-updating and fine-tuning process. The film remains a very impressive project which deserves admiration.