HEMINGWAY’S GARDEN OF EDEN directed by John Irvin – adapted from THE GARDEN OF EDEN by Ernest Hemingway – Movie Review

by Alix Cohen on December 10, 2010

in Film

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Picture one of those seaside cafes on The Riviera from the idyllic literature of pre-depression jazz age.  Everyone’s well mannered; clothes are pastel; sailboats bob in the sun; the air seems rarified. Young writer David Bourne  has just married rich, spoiled, pretty, poisonous Catherine. They’re footloose on an extended honeymoon.

“I’m the inventive type,” David reflects.

“I’m the destructive type,” Catherine retorts with an effort to raise an eyebrow.

“What are you going to destroy?” he asks without a flicker of awareness.

“You.” She responds.

And she tries. Very hard.

Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Garden of Eden had been extensively edited when it was posthumously published in1986.  The story, thought to be autobiographical, has the familiar cast of many Hemingway novels: an attractive, desirable, cruel or mad libertine; a trod-upon too-nice-a-guy romantic; and a third (or sometimes fourth) character, generally of somewhat more substance, who interferes with the couple’s relationship – as if it ever had a chance.   Add rash acts, sexual ambiguity, scenic locations, and stir.

David and Catherine (Jack Huston and Mena Suvari) spend months tooling around Europe at Catherine’s moody whims until they come upon a guest house on a promontory near Cannes. Owned by Madame Aurol ( a completely unused Carmen Maura), the house is beautifully situated on a beach, isolated enough for David to write and close enough to town for Catherine to get into trouble.   Sex is frequent and passionate, but otherwise, David writes, Catherine is bored, and both drink a great deal. The restless young wife attempts to shake things up with nasty put-downs, role playing, and radical changes in her appearance – anything that might get a rise out of her mate.  One afternoon, she arrives back at the house with Marita (Caterina Murino), a gorgeous, provocative woman the newlyweds met in a café. Catherine wants Marita to stay…so everyone can enjoy each other. Her turn first, of course. Things deteriorate rapidly.

As David writes, his story is shown as a (well produced) film within the film. Centering on the boyhood memory of a traumatic African elephant hunt with his father (Matthew Modine in a solid, if brief, performance), it parallels the betrayal and destruction he’s experiencing in his life.

Mena Suvari is not convincing enough as a femme fatale to make her sociopathic cruelty later on horrific. It’s difficult to believe that her Catherine has the sexuality or charisma to so affect those around her; she comes off more akin to The Great Gatsby‘s Daisy Buchanan with a mean streak.  Meanwhile, Jack Huston has the unfortunate task of playing a wimp, which he does so well that even the sex is asexual. Caterina Murino, on the other hand, is darkly, sensually appealing, with terrific screen presence that never hits a false note.

Hemingway’s Garden of Eden is an idea that doesn’t flesh out into the drama it should be. Underdeveloped characters strain its credibility, and ultimately, the hijinks are more irritating than shocking.

alixcohen @ stageandcinema.com

Hemingway’s Garden of Eden
rated R
now playing  in limited release
and Video On Demand

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