Tuesday, September 27, 2005

BOOK REVIEW: The Constant Gardener

I finally got around to seeing “The Constant Gardener” last night after spending the last few weeks working through the book. I am not sure how to share my thoughts on the book and the movie with you since they are very different creatures which have the same story and central characters at their core. Both are the story of Justin Qualye, a rather nebbish career functionary in the British Foreign Office, investigating the murder of his young wife Tessa and the ramifications the investigation has for him on a personal level. To me the most fascinating facet of the story was how Justin gets to know a whole new side of his wife through his investigation. The narrative structure in the book had a very dreamlike disregard for time and thus the reader is introduced to events as they are important to the story rather than when they actually happened. At first this was disorienting for me, but once I figured out what was going on, I was hooked. I will not mislead you, this book was work. I am a fairly avid reader, and it took quite a bit of discipline for me to read through this novel, and make no mistake about the ending, while it is right for the story, it is not what I was hoping for.

I have not seen “City of God” so this was my first exposure to Fernando Meirelles’ work, and I have to say that I was very impressed. Meirelles was not afraid to pull out all of the tools in a filmmaker’s toolbox to covey the dreamlike quality of the narrative FAR better than I had hoped. It seems like every decision he made in this effort was the right one. From frantic and rough, documentary-like movement to the long, deliberate dutch angles, the camera work helped along the story without intruding. To the color palettes chosen for each location really helped the narrative along, with Europe being a dark, dank, lifeless collection of grays to Africa with its vibrate, primary palette that is almost washed out at times by the amount of light Meirelles allowed the camera to see.

Any complaints I have about the adaptation lay purely with the script. In the book there was a little more cloak and dagger going on than was apparent in the movie and I feel like the removal of this from the story made Justin appear to be a bit more of a victim of circumstances rather than being in control of them as he was in the novel. Of course part of this may have been part of what the film was trying to say, since ultimately Justin is a victim of circumstances in both versions of the story. I also have a problem with the Tessa character in the movie, where she seemed to be more abrupt and out of control than she seemed to be in the book. In particular this comes out in the scene where Justin and Tessa first meet. Justin is delivering a lecture about diplomacy and Tessa confronts him about Britain’s involvement in the current war in Iraq. She breaks down and seems to really loose it, and Justin tries to point out that she has a valid point. In the novel I remember Tessa not losing control and I think I like that Tessa a little better. All in all these are very minor quibbles and the adaptation from novel to screen is superior to many I have seen recently.

All in all I would recommend the book and movie, though I feel like this is one movie that should be seen on the large screen for all of Meirelles’ work to have its intended effect.

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