Film Review: The Gardener

Images and metaphors whimsically combine in a fine, fast-flowing documentary introducing the Baha'i faith.

Eona, a native of Papua New Guinea, who brings a feeling of deep inner devotion as he talks about its tenets while he tends the flower beds.

The Gardener marks the first time in decades—perhaps since the Iranian Revolution in 1979—that an Iranian filmmaker has shot a movie in Israel, and what it has to say about religion and world peace is as radical a statement as unconventional filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf (The Bicyclist, Kandahar) has ever made. Filmed amid the extravagant colors of nature at the Baha’i world headquarters in Haifa, Mohsen and his cameraman-son Maysam Makhmalbaf amicably debate the role of religion in life and war in an engaging, good-humored introduction to the Baha’i Faith. The deep spirituality it discusses so intelligently will appeal to open-minded viewers and should have an extended life via culture channels.

The filmmakers from Iran turn up in the sprawling Baha’i gardens with their small DV cameras and sound equipment. There is never a trace of any more crew. In the idyllic garden colored by a chalk white path, bright red geraniums and velvety green cypresses, a hushed Zen feeling reigns. Mohsen begins with an off-camera statement announcing he’s not a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Zoroastrian, a Jew or a Baha’i, but an agnostic who has come to the garden to make a film with his son about the Baha’i faith. At the end of the film he will slightly revise this statement to assert, in the spirit of Baha’i unity, he is all of these religions. Coming from an Iranian, these are the kinds of courageous statements that have made fanatics target the Makhmalbaf family in the past.

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