The Garden of Gethsemane [Galina Altman, Russia, 2018]
The shot of a woman’s hand caressing the tips of barley in a sprawling countryside field beneath a clear blue sky, instantly recalls the opening shot of Ridley Scott’s historical epic Gladiator (USA, 2000). In Galina Altman’s The Garden of Gethsemane though, we are worlds apart from the violent bloodshed of sword wielding warriors and crumbling empires, Altman instead attending her focus towards more Dionysian fascinations. The film supposes the relationship between woman and nature to be one of sensuousness and nurturing, as indicated though extreme close-ups of the unnamed woman’s lips or a bird’s eye shot of her laying supine in wistful repose.
The film is silent, functioning without the reliance of dialogue and allowing the fairy-tale imagery (the blue dress notably evoking Alice in Wonderland) and classical piano score to operate in tandem to provide the overall structure to this expressionistic narrative. Notwithstanding the clear reverence for the wonders of nature displayed within the frame, the film’s title (Gethsemane being the place where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept the night before his crucifixion) might also hint at a certain religious appreciation for nature’s aesthetic pleasures.
It is a shame that there are distinct moments where the viewer is completely taken out of this concocted paradise by jittery and hesitant camera work and (in separate scenes), the disruption of the frame line by either the camera operators' feet or shadows. These are the unfortunate and necessary mistakes of a filmmaker at the mercy of limited budget, crew and cast. Altman’s work clearly displays a tendency towards classicism and with the right support could yet adequately realise her artistic vision.