BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: Lech Majewski, round one.

The Garden of Earthly Delights takes its name from Hieronymus Bosch’s epic painting (c1503-4). That triptych painting featured Adam and Eve in paradise, alongside an earthly garden and at the far extreme, a scathing picture of Hell. The painting has provoked a wide number of reactions from art critics, from a vicious attack on humanity’s failings to a celebration of an earthly paradise (in spite of what went on in the biblical Eden). The film by Polish/American filmmaker (a former painter and poet who frequently makes films about painters and poets) Lech Majewski uses the painting as its backdrop to look at a couple, Claudine and Chris, who hide themselves in amongst Venice and Bosch while Claudine dies of throat cancer. In the process, Majewski creates an intimate, moving depiction of a mortality, and makes a plea for seeing the world as a place full of beauty and joy.

The film benefits from the fearless acting of the two lead performances (Claudine Spiter and Chris Nightingale). Majewski gives the actors the camera, and many of the shots are improvised by the actors themselves. In part, Majewski wanted the relationship to appear more intimate and ‘real’, and aside from some clunky dialogue and some awkward use of the camera, this tactic manages to work wonderfully well. There is a rare erptic charge to the proceedings, and Claudine Spiter in particular, really drives the film. Spiter’s character is a reference to Dante’s Divine Comedy, as she becomes a Beatrice figure to guide the male character (and the audience) through the circles of hell towards paradise. Majewski’s earth is full of death and sadness, however, he and the actors manage to create a place where unabashed beauty and even a utopian paradise do exist in spite, and even because of, the death and decay.

The film also shows the possibility of digital filmmaking. Unlike the stylised tableaux of Majewski’s Angelus, The Garden of Earthly Delights, is considerably more grungy and raw. However, it also allows the audience to see more of an unmediated relationship (I have no idea how unmediated everything was, but it feels right). Long takes, frantic camera movement, the camera acting almost as a tactile instrument – Majewski has attempted to create an unmeddled film and for the most part succeeds. While the film may not appeal to all tastes in terms of its pacing and thematic concerns, it’s a brave, intelligent and fascinating stab at using the intimate to comment on the universal.