Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Constant Gardener

In preparation for tonight's Academy Awards, last night I saw The Constant Gardener, a film directed by Brazilian Fernando Meirelles and based on John le Carre's book. The film has been nominated for four Oscars: Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role; Achievement in Film Editing; Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures (Original Score); and Adapted Screenplay.

The movie was povocative and saddening - one of those movies where the audience sits in their seats for five minutes afterwards in silence. Watching it on my laptop's DVD player, I'm sure it had lesser effect. However, I have thought about the movie all night, waking each time from a restless sleep to think about it again. After his wife's murder, Ralph Fiennes, who acts as British Diplomat Justin Quayle, finishes his wife's work to expose the corruption of a pharmaceutical company and the diplomats, who support it. As Tessa Quayle, Rachel Weisz portrays the wife, a passionate activist whose investigation into the dealings of an international pharmaceutical company leads to her murder. Although the wife's death occurs at the first of the movie, flashbacks effectively tell her story throughout the film. As one layer of the mystery after another unfold, we ultimately come to the conclusion that Justin must also give his life to "finish his wife's work."

One great line out of the film is "The pharmaceuticals are right up there with the arms dealers." I questioned the underlying truth behind this statement and the film, which endicts the pharmaceuticals for using Africans as human guinea pigs in testing unsafe drugs. So I did a "google"search and up came an article "Pharmaceutical colonialism in Africa" by Jean-Philippe Chippaux. The article claims that "big drug companies are conducting clinical trials in Africa with no consideration for ethics, the health of patients or the relevance of the drugs to the needs and the pathology of the continent." Some of the drug testing is supported by funds from the US government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Le Monde diplomatique, August 2005

Of course the storyline is fiction and very unfavorable in its portrayal of the British diplomatic corps. Yet, the filming in Kenya occurred because of the cooperation of the British High Commissioner. Like me he must be a John le Carre fan. He also recognized that a story needed to be told about Africa and realized that most film viewers can separate truth from fiction in a story. One of the great truths in this story is the portrayal of the poverty of people who smile and are obviously happy despite the difficulties of their lives. Much of the movie was filmed in Kibernia, a shack town outside Kenya's capital, that houses 700,000 people with little sanitation and clean water. A fascinating scene shows Tessa, a lone white among thousands of black faces, watching a stage play supporting tolerance of HIV victims. The filming and editing at this point of the film are spectacular, as is its sympathetic depiction of African culture.

Another great line from the film was "Some very nasty things live under rocks, especially in foreign gardens." Yes, indeed.

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