Review: Taming the Garden


There’s no narration to this doc verite. Overheard voices can be heard, but this is basically the silent story about transplanting a beautiful tree from a spot in rural Georgia, a nation of diverse geology and topography on Turkey’s border to the north.

“Taming the Garden” shows the slow, painstaking digging out of this 15-story tree with a sizable circumference of dirt base about 20 feet in depth. Pipes, rototillers and big machines work months to carefully free the tree from the ground it has been in for over 100 years.

Roads are built to transport the tree down to the Black Sea where a barge eventually transports it to a beautiful park. We wonder about the tree, sitting in the middle of what looks like a big flat cake, supported with guy-wires. Will this old tree survive replanting? How is its root system reacting to this severance?

The film works to keep the mastermind behind the tree removal and replanting project anonymous, but with a little research the truth is revealed. The owner is Bidzina Ivanishvili, the most wealthy and most powerful man in Georgia. He is a past Georgian Prime Minister. His home is on property he has made into a park-like sanctuary. Flamingoes gather and birds sing. Netting keeps the animals contained. There is a bamboo grove as well as a park full of gorgeous 100-year trees, most replanted, we are led to believe, from surrounding Georgia, the home country of the wealthy scion.

The Georgians are compensated well for this uprooting, and they are grateful for the new roads that for the first time link their property with Georgia’s road system. But they also question the reason for the fuss.

As Prime Minister from 2012 to 2013, Bidzina Ivanishvili instituted universal health care, labor benefits, increased pensions, social assistance allowances, increased education spending as well protection of gay rights. He also introduced prison reform and systemic governmental corruption investigations. Regarding the trees, he ended up donating the grounds as a national park to the citizens of Georgia who can visit for free.

Salomé Jashi, the director, has written: “There are many things I would like to say with this movie – maybe a few too many, in fact. None of them are straight up in your face. It’s entirely up to the viewers to uncover these layers – they can uncover as much as they want, as much as they see fit, coming from their own perspective and experience.”

Not knowing much about Georgia, an EU and NATO aspirant under Ivanishvili, uncovering distinct ideas distinct to Georgia is challenging. But if we look globally, we can recognize themes like the attempt of humans to manipulate nature, government attempts to manipulate those it governs, and the generally extravagant interests of the very rich. Imagine how Elon Musk’s 40 billion dollar purchase of Twitter could have affected world hunger?

“Taming the Garden” is a slow-moving documentary that motivates introspection and insight. It’s a grand cinematic study of uprooting as well as an expose of the inexplicable squandering of wealth.


Director: Salomé Jashi
Producers: Vadim Jendreyko, Erik Winker, Martin Roelly, Salomé Jashi
Associate Producers: Hercli Bundi, Susanne Guggenberger, Ümit Uludag, Anna Dziapshipa
Cinematography: Goga Devdariani, Salomé Jashi
Editor: Chris Wright
Sound: Philippe Ciompi
Music: Celia Stroom
Researcher: Tamara Mshvenieradze
Line Producer: Pascal Moor
Co-production of Mira Film, CORSO Film, and Sakdoc Film
Release: Oct. 7, 2022 (USA)

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