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  Cement Garden, The Keep it in the family
Year: 1993
Director: Andrew Birkin
Stars: Andrew Robertson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alice Coulthard, Ned Birkin, Sinéad Cusack, Hanns Zischler, Jochen Horst, Gareth Brown
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Jack (15)(Andrew Robertson), Julie (17)(Charlotte Gainsbourg), Sue and Tom live with their parents in a grey concrete house on waste ground near some gasometers. Their father (Hanns Zischler) is a cement aficionado and is gradually filling the garden with cement features. Then one day during some troweling, he keels over. He was coughing every five seconds previously - a sure sign. The mother (Sinéad Cusack) is left to look after the family. Jack is an archetypal teenage boy and spends his time around a demolished set of houses having a fag and a wink [typo?].

Mum starts to fall ill and is bed-ridden, so Julie is left to fill the matriarchal role. She starts by kicking Jack into shape who seems to be getting an unhealthy interest in her (well she is rather nice). Some horse-play comes too close to ‘take me now’ and he gets to rub sun cream on her back whilst she’s doing some overcast-day sunbathing. After mum dies in bed and fearing the caring social services, they both place the body in a metal cabinet in the basement and fill it with cement. But they at least get to smoke in the house now.

Home life degenerates slightly and Tom who’s six, turns to transvestism after being dressed-up. Julie has a boyfriend Derek (Jochen Horst) who’s old enough to be at least my age. He comes round for dinner and there is the expected jealousy from Jack. A smell is emanating from the basement and Derek is told it’s a dog that was encased in the concrete cabinet. Something funny’s going on though. And indeed it does when Jack and Julie finally get together. Derek comes round and sees them. He’s not happy at all and goes off to break open mum’s tomb. Additionally, he thinks it prudent to spoil the fun by calling the police and the film ends with a blue flashing light at the lovers window.

The film has predictable grey clothes, dust and often faded colour. Plus they all have terrible hair. There are many awkward scenes, including some delirious comedy trying to cover mum’s body with a sheet that’s too short. To add to the incestuous tone, the director’s son plays Tom, and is Jane Birkin’s brother, who is Charlotte’s mother. Father and daughter Gainsbourg had their odd moments in the mid-eighties too. The cast is excellent with the two leads being very androgynous and with a number of nude scenes. Jack and Julie’s final scene is quite erotic and feels natural, perhaps more so than Ian McEwan’s original novel.

The story feels a bit empty and depressing, but it’s more about the characters and their relationships. The orchestrated music adds to the melancholy. Stylistically the film is a bit odd, but it’s consistent. The fifties and sixties are sort of evoked by the house decor – concrete’s heyday perhaps? Jack’s 8mm filmed beach dream sequences, look like the fifties and don’t really make any sense unfortunately. If I’ve made it sound like a farce, it really isn’t. It’s a film that holds together very well around it’s simple premise. Intimate, touching and expertly handled. Music by Edward Shearmur.
Reviewer: Simon Aronsson


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