The Wexner Center kicks off a three-film retrospective of Polish-born filmmaker Lech Majewski’s works today with his 2004 The Garden of Earthly Delights.
It’s a good place to start, given the way it makes vivid use of the highly hyphenated Majewski’s command of multiple media, and the way one can inform the other. Probably best known for his contributions to 1996’s Basquiat, which he wrote and co-produced, Majewski is himself a painter, a poet, a novelist and composer.
Adapted from his own novel, Majewski’s Garden of Earthly Delights follows Claudine Spiteri’s terminally ill art historian and her odd and highly accommodating boyfriend Chris Nightingale as they move from England to Venice and embark on a peculiar and highly personal quest. The pair are both intelligent, attractive and a little over-angsty doctorate students who have found each other at the turn of the millennium.
He’s devoting himself to ship-building, applying art theories like that of the golden ratio to hull design, while she’s made a life’s study of the titular Heironymous Bosch painting. When it becomes clear she doesn’t have long to live, she has Chris film her interpretations of the painting, complete with meticulously reenacted details from it, which the pair perform themselves. It turns out that Chris is uniquely, if improbably, suited to the task, as he films absolutely everything. Even when she tells him she’s dying and he strokes her face to comfort her, he keeps his other hand on his handheld camera, focused on her face.
The film is composed as if it were stitched together from Chris’ video diaries and their work together building their own version of Bosch’s heaven on Earth, so that nearly every shot is from first-person perspective, on a usually rather shaky handheld.
It makes for an incredibly intimate film, the form of the piece serving the characters and themes to an extent that would be impossible were it not for the conceit.
This also serves to make Garden a somewhat challenging film to watch; if you’re one of those who get sea sick from excess handheld camera work, then you might have a hard time getting through this, as it scans a bit like an art house romance as filmed by the kids from Blair Witch Project. If you’re not of that sort, however, than Majewski treats you to a thought-provoking piece about the conflict between permanence and mortality, in art as well as in real life.
The Wex’s Majewski program will continue for the next two Wednesdays. Next up is 1999’s Wojaczek, a tale of the last days of poet (and Eastern Europe counterculture icon) Rafal Wojaczek, which Majewski calls a twin to his work on Basquiat. The Wednesday after that is Gospel According to Harry, a near future, Bible-inspired tale set in the desert of what used to be California and starring Jennifer Rubin and a pre-Lord of the Rings Viggo Mortensen.
The Garden of Earthly Delights unspools tonight, September 5, at 7 p.m. at the Wexner Center’s Film/Video Theater. For more info, click to wexarts.org