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The Garden (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 11, 2020



Starring Thomas Loibl, Laura Tonke, Ursula Werner, Günther Maria Halmer, Christine Schorn, Inge Maux, Mavie Hörbiger and Emilia Pieske.

Screenplay by Sonja Maria Kröner.

Directed by Sonja Maria Kröner.

Distributed by 20th Century Fox. 96 minutes. Not Rated.

Screened from Kino! 2018 Festival of German Films

The Garden (Sommerhäuser) is not a suspense thriller in the traditional sense that we think of them. Very little of note really seems to happen in the film. Lots of small problems intrude upon a family’s first return to their late mother’s favorite summer home after her death: family arguments, odd neighbors, wasp attacks, disastrous birthday parties, lightning strikes, elderly women sunbathing nude, tree fort battles, the possible discovery of a newly dug grave….  Oh yeah, and there are recurring reports about a cannibalistic killer on the loose somewhere in the basic area.

It seems like a vacation from hell more than a horror film.

Even in the end, when something horrific may have happened, we are not sure that it did happen. It seems like it did, but it is never really shown and never really discussed, so the audience doesn’t know what to think.

However, I think in many ways, considering The Garden a suspense film is missing the point. It is more of a slice of life; a colorful and slightly disturbing time capsule (the action takes place in West Berlin in 1976) of a family falling apart – if it was ever really together – after the matriarch passes on.

Like a summer vacation, The Garden unravels slowly, luxuriously, even a bit lazily, with little apparent rhyme or reason – just a series of days which lead (perhaps) to an explosion. Family members start to chafe upon each other, everyone starts jockeying for control of the land, old grudges are sharpened, people become less and less concerned about each other’s feelings.

Just the type of thing that happens when people who have nothing in common but a name are forced to spend an extended time together after years apart.

The film has been met with acclaim in its native Germany. It recently won best producer and director prizes at the Munich Film Fest.

It almost has more of the feel of a novel than a movie, spectacularly detailed and full of characters, it has more of an anecdotal feel than a traditional three-act structure. These anecdotes range from benign to cutting, but as stated before, The Garden has the loose, unplanned feel of a summer vacation in which anything or nothing can happen at any given time, and that is okay.

The acting is very good, but the action is rather slow-moving, which I suppose was the point. It sometimes bordered upon dull, but that is how these vacations tend to go.

In the end, The Garden is just a little too slow-moving and a little too inscrutable for me to give a really enthusiastic recommendation. However, I can see it being the type of film that some art-house fans will cling to, and I can totally understand what they will see in The Garden.

Forget reality TV. This is what real life looks like, for better or for worse.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2018 All rights reserved. Posted: April 11, 2018.

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