The family dynamics are like something out of Osage County and the backdrop has a bit of Summer of Sam’s spirit, but nobody can get too worked up on a lazy summer day like this. Maybe that is part of the problem. A West German family gathers for what could be their last summer getaway on the wild, sprawling property of their late matriarch, while a child murderer remains on the loose in Sonya Maria Kröner’s The Garden (trailer here), which screens during this year’s KINO!: Festival of German Films in New York.
Just what will happen to the garden and the assorted summer cottages now is a very pertinent question. Ilse was Grandma Sophie’s caretaker and is now presumed to control the property. There are several hushed conversations about a potential sale, but they are quickly broken off whenever younger generations wander within earshot. Of course, Eva, the resentful wife of her grown grandson Bernd is convinced they will be swindled out of their share of the inheritance by his better-loved sister, Gitti. However, Gitti has plenty of her own problems, including a disinterested ex-husband. To make matters worse, her daughter blames her for the father’s absence.
Over the course of a late summer day, all the family resentments will slip out, but they never boil over. Kröner also does everything possible to cast suspicion on a creepy neighbor, short of tacking a note to his door that says “out killing children—back soon.” She juggles an awful lot of balls in the air, but none of them pay-off individually or add up to much collectively. In fact, her strategy of keeping most of the big drama off-screen gets hair-pullingly frustrating in the third act.
Nevertheless, as a mood piece and an accomplishment in mise-en-scène, Garden is quite impressive. All the textures and color schemes truly scream early 1970s. Kröner also totally nails the lazy, hazy, slightly-over-heated-in-a-Mersault-from-The-Stranger kind of way vibe. Plus, the cast is totally believable, especially Laura Tonke and Mavie Hörbiger as Eva and Gitti, the battling sisters-in-law. However, as you watch Garden it is hard to shake the feeling that there is a real movie going on in the room next door, but we can only see the players making their entrances and exits.