out of Five
Running time: 109
Engaging, beautifully acted and ultimately moving drama, though the pacing and general lack of plot are occasionally frustrating.
What's it all about?
Directed by Jean Becker, Conversations With My Gardener stars Daniel Auteuil as a Parisian painter who moves back into his childhood home in southern France after the death of his parents. He advertises for a gardener and is delighted when the man who applies turns out to be his childhood best friend (Jean-Pierre Darroussin).
The two men quickly re-establish their friendship and take to calling each other Dupinceau (of-the-brush or Dauber) and Dujardin (of-the-garden or Gardener) so we never learn their real names. They also help with each other's personal problems: the painter finds the gardener's son-in-law a job, while the gardener offers advice when the painter tries to reconcile with his estranged wife (Fanny Cottencon).
Essentially, this is a two-hander – aside from a few momentary diversions, the majority of the film is taken up with conversations between the two friends. To that end, Auteuil and Darroussin are both fantastic – there's a warmth to their friendship that is genuinely moving.
As a result, the supporting cast don't get much of a look-in, which is a shame, because they seem like interesting characters, especially the gardener's wife (Hiam Abbass), the painter's daughter (Elodie Navarre) and the painter's girlfriend (Alexia Barlier), whose only purpose in the film seems to be a) getting stolen away from her pretentious boyfriend (Roger van Hool) and b) sunbathing nude and embarrassing the gardener.
The film is occasionally frustrating in the way that it rejects promising subplots (e.g. the painter falling out with his daughter when she announces her intention to marry a much older man) in favour of just hanging around with the two leads. Similarly, the film drags a little in the middle and it's often unclear how much time is passing between scenes.
Despite its flaws, Conversations With My Gardener is an emotionally engaging and superbly acted drama that's worth seeing for its moving depiction of male friendship.