' ' Cinema Romantico: Master Gardener

Monday, October 16, 2023

Master Gardener

Marking the conclusion to Paul Schrader’s informal trilogy of lonely, haunted men, “Master Gardener” is at once, the strangest, least successful, and yet, on some level, purest Schrader of the bunch. Because this is not just the conclusion to an informal trilogy. Nearing 80, this feels like a true late period film of the meticulous screenwriter and transcendentalist director, a harnessing of all his usual devices and themes, a man journaling at a table, a figurative poking in the eyes of polite society, and an interrogation of his own Calvinist upbringing, but also a movie that feels weirdly, wonderfully, not altogether successfully more unadorned than the previous two. “Master Gardener” does not gather force like “First Reformed” (2017), nor does it elevate to the mystic a la the unexpectedly Buddhist “The Card Counter” (2021), but pulses with something electrically strange nonetheless, this ineffable, inaudible hum suggesting everything on the surface is just for show. That means aside from isolated moments, and a mesmerizing performance by Sigourney Weaver in which she plays malicious with a high handedness that is, honestly, hilarious, nothing in “Master Gardener” feels believable, per se. But Schrader, like it or not, and you might not, has moved past all that, living out the movie’s own pruning metaphor by reducing everything to pure gesture and symbol, almost as if at his age, he has decided there isn’t time for anything else.

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