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Simon Read [Celluloid 06.27.14] Austria fantasy experimental

Set in a kind of nowhere-world where a group of young adults live a hedonistic existence of drinking, dancing and wild, free-form verbal and physical expression, Perfect Garden is a full-on sensory experience written and directed by choreographer Chris Haring and artist/director Mara Mattuschka. Almost but not quite free of narrative, and containing several individual scenes which are startlingly well constructed, the film relies as much on sound and music as its visual design. This is most definitely not a film everybody will enjoy, but I found a lot to like in amongst the characters and their curious interactions.

Trying to pin down or explain the film in terms of story is pretty difficult. We begin with what looks like the morning after a drink and drug fuelled party, as the inhabitants of a woodland bar/club (called 'Perfect Garden') move around the building, seemingly in a kind of daze. A woman holds a conversation with a chicken named Elizabeth Taylor, while a couple thrust in tandem while standing in a bathroom as a metronome keeps time. In the bar a jukebox plays American rock 'n’ roll and women dance before repeating the word 'noodles' until it loses its meaning. A man walks down a corridor, repeatedly collapsing against the walls and almost spilling his martini. We assume he has some kind of inner ear balance disorder, but it turns out it's just the effect of that particular corridor. Eventually a group of Russian sounding mafia hoods arrive, and it appears they want to buy the place, but it's not long before they're seduced by its strange and otherworldly power, and here they learn the meaning of life. A mysterious bird-woman who lives in the woods observes their play, and discusses her thoughts with an owl...

Although Perfect Garden is basically an experimental film, and as such may be brushed off as "too artsy, too intellectual" by some, it also has a noticeably punk vibe to it. In the intensity of its sound design and careful attention to detail in visual composition the film is deliberately reminiscent of David Lynch's work, while musical choices are clearly influenced by Quentin Tarantino; but I felt there was also something of the Alex Cox too, in its use of punk philosophy, idiosyncratic characters and just plain outrageousness. This film looks a little how I imagined Cox would have done Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas had he had the chance - anarchic, grungy and nonsensical. Mattuschka has been quoted as saying, "This movie is like a drug", and it's true. Seeing it at 9am on a Tuesday morning while sipping coffee, I suddenly felt like I was on acid - in a good way.

The only real problem with the film is that its episodic nature means that certain sections will work better than others, each scene acting as an independent capsule, all but unrelated to the rest of the story. A dance routine staged by the hedonists for the Russians looks and sounds incredible, and an erotic conversation about bacon is highly amusing, but almost every scene with the mysterious bird-woman seems oddly out of place (as if that matters in a film like this) and one character's constant, infant-like mewling is incredibly grating and annoying. To maintain an audience's interest when employing a minimal element of linearity is very difficult, and Perfect Garden ought to be commended for at least getting as much mileage out of its premise and approach as it does, but it inevitably suffers from becoming a little too patchy and a little too full of itself. All that said, as an example of itself, it's pretty successful. Towards the end of the film things mellow out and a peaceful sort of euphoria settles in, and for this alone it's worth experiencing.

The film is 80 minutes long, which is just about right, and it's probably best to see it on big screen with good sound. I doubt we'll be hearing much more about Perfect Garden as these films tend to screen at festivals and then disappear into the ether, but if you get the chance to check it out, I recommend it. Funny in parts, philosophical in others, it's an expertly crafted and performed piece of work, and there are some great musical moments and far-out images which will stick with you for a few days after seeing it. Just don't expect it to make any sense.

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