Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Hemingway’s Garden of Eden

Those old school writers loved their liquor. However, it is not the alcohol that undermines a promising Jazz Age writer’s recent marriage. It is his wife psychological gamesmanship. Still, the Bournes’ lost honeymoon looks like a sundrenched paradise in Hemingway’s Garden of Eden (trailer here), John Irvin’s adaptation of the controversial unfinished novel, which opens this Friday in New York.

After serving in WWI, David Bourne became an expatriate, finding his voice in Europe as a writer. Indeed, the autobiographical elements of Garden are inescapable, but there appear to be generous amounts of wish fulfillment as well. Enter Catherine, his wealthy young bride. At first, she seems content whiling away their time with drink and passion, but her dark side gradually starts to manifest itself, triggered by Bourne’s rededication to his writing.

At first, she simply boozes harder than he does and suggests some rather eyebrow-raising role playing. Yet, as he works on a Nick Adams-like story set in his beloved Africa, the new Mrs. Bourne resorts to the shocking, introducing another woman into their love nest. Dark and sultry, it is unclear what the mysterious Marita makes of the American couple, or which of the two she prefers.

Many questioned the extent to which the sexually charged Garden was edited at the time of its posthumous publication, making the ultimate faithfulness of James Scott Linville’s adapted screenplay a rather complicated matter to judge. Nevertheless, his dialogue nicely captures the ring of Hemingway’s novels.

Jack Huston (grandson of the Hemingway-esque director John), is surprisingly on target as David Bourne, largely modeling him on the author, with good reason. Though a tricky part, he finds the right balance between Bourne’s devil-may-care expat persona and his buried insecurities. Frankly, Catarina Murino is mostly just required to smolder on screen, but she certainly does it well. Even though American Beauty’s Mena Suvari is all over the place as Catherine Bourne, she still acquits herself better than one might suspect. The real casting mistake though, comes with Matthew Modine’s appearances as Bourne’s supposedly grizzled big game hunting father in several flashback scenes. Still, the always entertaining Richard E. Grant helps to compensate, chewing the scenery with élan as Bourne’s former commander, Colonel Boyle.

Ashley Rowe’s artful cinematography captures indolent beauty of the French and Spanish Riviera, giving Garden a seductive La Dolce Vita ambience. It goes a long way. Despite the self-consciously naughty nature of its love triangle, it still pulls viewers in with its lush settings and some sharply penned exchanges. The strangely transfixing Garden opens this Friday (12/10) in New York at the Quad Cinema.