The Cement Garden
1993, NR, 101 min. Directed by Andrew Birkin. Starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Andrew Robertson, Ned Birkin, Sinead Cusack, Alice Coultand, Jochen Horst.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., May 6, 1994
A very odd film. Based on the novel by Ian McEwan, this is the story of Jack and Julie (Robertson and Gainsbourg), an inseparable sibling duo caught up in varying currents of death, burgeoning sexuality, and familial responsibility. The film takes its name from the backyard of the home in which they live with their younger brother and sister, their mother, and their father, who one day takes it upon himself to remake the backyard into the titular garden. He doesn't get far, though, succumbing to a heart attack before he can get halfway started. When the children's mother passes away also, the children decide to bury her in the basement, encased in a block of poorly-mixed, leftover cement. The story actually begins here, as the androgynous, sullen Jack begins to fixate on his slightly older sister, eventually falling into a bizarre, incestuous lovesickness. When Julie meets and begins to date a local building contractor, Derek (Horst), the children's secret is discovered, but not before one final act of desperate love. The real star of Birkin's film is the overall tone, from the house itself -- a shattered stone and stucco monstrosity seemingly resting abandoned atop a dismal plain of architectural waste -- to the blooming sexuality of young Jim Morrison look-alike Jack. (Before her untimely death, Mom counsels her son on the dangers of masturbation, warning that a terrible fate awaits him if he continues his onanistic ways). Robertson and Gainsbourg are literally perfect for their roles as the lovestruck pair; it's hard to imagine anyone else being able to pull off such complex roles with such apparent ease. The Cement Garden is hardly for everyone (the heavy twin themes of sibling incest and death are right up front), but it's a gorgeous mood piece, rife with tension and promise in a surreal manner you rarely get to see.