If The People Garden inspired me in any way, it reminded me that I really should mail filmmakers Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas a thank-you letter for 2013’s The Oxbow Cure. I’m not comparing both Canadian dramas (which also, coincidentally, take place in the woods), but if a filmmaker creates a minimalist movie, they ought to have a resonating voice.
A film doesn’t always have to carry a message, but it can at least work on multiple levels. In the case of Lewis and Thomas’ chilly psychological film, it scared audiences and revealed its lead character through meticulous beats. The People Garden, a sophomore feature from actress Nadia Litz, has its reveals, but only for a specific creatively-minded audience. Then again, these showbiz digs might have helped Litz’s script win the audience prize at the 2013 TIFF Screenwriting Lab.
Sweetpea (Dree Hemingway) makes her way to Japan to meet with her musician boy toy Jamie (François Arnaud) on the set of his latest music video. The trip isn’t a happy reunion – she prepares to break up with him. However, her plan goes awry during an unconventional drive to Jamie’s shoot, an aimless jaunt through the forest, and a no-show by Jamie. The director shrugs, the supporting voluptuous eye candy is indifferent as well, and the staff surrounding the production are adamant to keep answers away from weepy Sweetpea.
Much like its ambient score, The People Garden hums and drones towards its shadows. Nadia Litz’s film also resembles an animated optical illusion where the image swallows itself to become its original form – it’s an intriguing watch at first, but soon bothers us with its repetitive nature.
James Le Gros and Pamela Anderson (yes, the Pamela Anderson) are very good as two “artists” who feign interest in their missing star – they certainly know apathy and ego motivates their satirical roles. Unfortunately for the audience, Sweetpea creeps around without them. Hemingway does what she can with her depressed character, however the sadness is mutual for the audience – they’re straddled to Sweetpea for 80 long minutes.
The People Garden is an opportunity for the performer-turn-filmmaker to unload their catharsis onto the audience. It just so happens to be disguised as a dreamy arthouse film. Not the resonating type of arthouse like The Oxbow Cure though, but rather the vague cliché some shudder just by thinking of.
The People Garden screens at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox on May 10, 11, and 12. An intro and Q&A with filmmaker Nadia Litz will take place on May 10 at the 7:10pm showtime. After the Lightbox, The People Garden continues its theatrical run at Carlton Cinema on May 13.
Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie