Chekhov Motives

in 35th FilmFest Munich

by Victoria Smirnova Mayzel

Garden by Sonja Maria Kröner belongs to a type of film which in Russia would be called “new and quiet”. It doesn’t trespass over borders, it politely follows the rules. Perhaps the title refers to Cherry Orchard, and these similarities are not only seen in the plot (relatives get together to discuss a sale of a family house), but also in poetics, which are somewhat objective, treating the important and the unimportant, the banal and dramatical with equal weight.

Three generations of at family reunite for a birthday party. They talk reluctantly about the sale of a summer house, as if not admitting their interest. Sixty-year- old Elzie wants to change nothing, having platonically fallen in love with a neighbour. Timid Bernd uses a chance to escape from his wife, who nags at him for his overly soft character (the garden will be sold soon, and they won’t get anything, and they have children). His sister Gittie is a spoilt lone mum, who gossips with parents, claiming the biggest part of the heritage.

Parents’ conflicts influence their children. Gittie’s daughter finds herself isolated – she isn’t allowed to enter a hut, she is left home alone when her cousins go on and adventure to the neighbour’s garden, which looks so suspicious . It seems that old man could be maniac (local radio reports corpses of little girls have been found by police). However, the quarrels are too harmless, and the omissions are curious. They are drowning in the bliss of a June morning, a rhythmic hum of a hose, a whisper of trees as well as gatherings with neighbors pull everyone asleep. And if there is a shotgun hanging here – as the classic writer would say, “it will perhaps shoot”. The hypothetic shot will hardly worry someone.

This cozy painlessness, this assurance from any catastrophes (which happen in the end, by the way) is a trait of the author’s sight – too distant and respectful, forbidding you to get closer to characters. You are guarded from overly strong emotions, from any kind of sentimentality, painfulness or of awkward feeling. We won’t find out if the obviously crazy old man is a maniac, obsessed with little girls or what was in this (very intimate) letter from a neighbour, which Elzie read and tore.

Each character is infantile enough to avoid challenges of life in time. Dangers (real or imaginary) await at every step, but they happen only to others and as if in pretence.

The film starts and finishes with thunder blasts and a falling of a tree. In the first case the event evokes bewilderment: perhaps a fallen tree is a sign from a grandma, who had recently left this world? In the second case, when thunder kills a young girl, no one seeks explanation. Summer visitors drive away, the garden apparently will not be sold, workers sweep away leaves and saw tree trunks.

Edited by Amber Wilkinson