Schrader fans will certainly not be able to complain about Master Gardener.


the new film by one of the most cult filmmakers of modern times, able to fascinate, divide and condition an entire generation with its cinema made up of atypical characters and dramas that are different from the norm. . Presented out of competition at the Biennale, Master Gardener is a typical Schrader film, for the good for his fans, for the bad for his detractors, because here is everything he has always given us, there is his cinema made of mystery and meanings, of broken lives, of a pure and coherent authorship. Of course, perhaps the flicker seen in First Reformed and that The Card Counter is missingthat he had won so much applause last year at the Lido. But it remains a work with much more than a mere exercise in style to offer to the public.

A very special Gardener

For Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) the art of gardening holds no secrets of any kind. For years he has been the trusted Master Gardener of the rich and often despotic Mrs. Norma Haverhill (Sigourney Weaver), for whom she tends the mammoth land more like an Eden than a private garden. Loyal to his duty, precise to the point of fanaticism, cloaked in a cold and measured professionalism, Narvel actually hides a terrible secret: he is a former member of the Aryan brotherhood. After committing several murders, he decided to collaborate with the FBI and start a new life under a false name by abandoning the old one. His body shows signs of his past, which he keeps for himself, as well as for his custodian (Esai Morales). However one fine day he receives the news from Mrs. Haverhill that her granddaughter Maya (Quintessa Swindell) is about to arrive on the estate. The girl has a past of grief and grief, she has lost her mother and grandmother and has a life oppressed by drugs and bad company. It will be up to Narvel to take care of her and make sure she doesn’t follow her example, taking care of the garden and learning a new trade, but of course theory is one thing, real life is another.

Thus begins Master Gardener , with whom Schrader returns to talk to us about lost and broken men, about a past made up of sins and misdeeds, of the will to start over, caressing the pale veins of an urban western now dead and buried, but of which he knows how to preserve energy and vitality in a unique and unintelligible way. Certainly a film a la Schrader and by Schrader, but which perhaps fails to compensate for a diegetic dimension that is not perfectly balanced with sometimes too simple metaphors.

Between masks and scars

Joel Edgerton is an actor by profession and application, he has a particular sensitivity for broken and contradictory men, and certainly Narvel is the most extreme of all, the one that allows him to show off his talent in subtraction with greater incisiveness.

However, Master Gardner is not only about him, a former Aryan assassin turned green-thumb samurai, but about a world made up of taboos and stringent rules, about the oppression of society towards an individual different from the norm or perhaps simply without a clear imprint. The theme of the mask returns, since Narvel has been wearing one for years, he pretends to be what he was not, but after all, even the tattoos he wears are a mask, his true self remains hidden, his true nature dormant and uncertain . His path is halfway between violence and denial, between acceptance and rejection, and in this Scharder knows how to connect with his writing to the characters imagined by Ellroy and Steinback, at least here where he speaks to us of a classist and ruthless universe, almost more European. what an American.

Pure Maya fights against herself and a family dimension that is actually absent or at least hostile, against drugs, against a past that has not given her a future and also against that man who pretends to tell her what to do and how to behave. Autumn and wet America surrounds Narvel and the ghost of his past life, a story that is actually simple, about a man and a woman who meet, who are the same because they are rejected and full of pain, who learn to go beyond mutual differences and to heal each other. Yet in all this, the nemesis is missing, or better still, the real obstacle that goes beyond something pretext to make the whole continue in an exciting and unpredictable way, to ensure that the relationship between the two protagonists goes beyond the obvious and predictable.

A film that is perhaps satisfied

Master Gardner lives on moments, on small moments and scenes, but also on characters like the Haverhill of an unpredictable Weaver, who paints a kind of despotic Queen of the Forest who seems to have emerged from the times of the enslaved and arrogant South.

Morales is the mere executor of the law who does not feel empathy and follows the rule of detachment, he avoids the shortcuts of empathy that Narvel offers him to maintain a relationship that proves the immaturity of the protagonist, who learns the transience of social life.

Schrader continues to talk to us about loneliness as he has always done, since the days in which, with the New Hollywood of which he is a part, he gave new life to a cinema devoid of respect for the characters, their history, their evolutionary process. The guilt, the redemption, return with pride but without the necessary creativity, without even the wickedness to which we had become accustomed, also found in Dog Eating Dog and The Invisible Enemy , but it is difficult to see a sin of excess humility in this outcome.

Master Gardnerit has the annoying scent of an all too evident self-satisfaction, of a semantics that is satisfied with the talent of its interpreters, with the identity of an author of great audacity but who perhaps did not understand well here how to develop what he wanted in the way he wanted . However, the whole certainly remains worthy of a vision, because after all Scharder always has something to say about man and his tortuous paths, about the damnation that besieges us and how we can defeat it by opening up to others. A film that closes a trilogy, however coherent and precious, of a filmmaker who always knows how to stand out from the crowd, from this indie and alternative siege by pure way, reminding us that in the end, the characters and their evolution always count more than the narrative process in itself.