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  • Writer's pictureMatheus Mans

Review: 'Master Gardener' is another hit for Paul Schrader

Narvel (Joel Edgerton) loves plants. His life, as a gardener on the estate of a wealthy widow, is dedicated to tending the garden and making the space even more pleasing to visitors' eyes. Perfection is the order of the day. Until, from one day to the next, everything changes.

Master Gardener, the new film by Paul Schrader (of the brilliant First Reformed), premiering in theaters in Brazil this Thursday, the 30th, is essentially the story of this man who sees his world of perfection crumble. Everything changes with the arrival of Maya (Quintessa Swindell), the grand-niece of the property owner, who is involved in problems — in her relationship and with drugs.

Schrader is a filmmaker who likes to prod at wounds. To unsettle. He not only creates characters on the edge, whether as a screenwriter or director, but also questions the boundaries of the world that frames his stories. In the end, who is entering a cycle of insanity? The character in question or the world? What is, after all, sanity? How to be sane?

In his new film, Schrader immediately plays with the audience's relationship with the protagonist. Narvel hides a secret, very well hidden, that shakes anyone's trust in the gardener. Schrader makes us, once again, question our limits.

After all, Narvel is in turmoil. We, as the audience, cannot comprehend this character, nor can we understand the tone of clemency the film embraces. It seems, for a good part of the narrative, that Paul Schrader is portraying the gardener as a hero, a good guy in redemption. But gradually, this is deconstructed.

At the crossroads of tree roots, Narvel acts in a tortuous manner. The ends still justify the means, especially when there is an understanding that there isn't necessarily goodness in 'Master Gardener,' but rather a need to prove oneself — as a different person, as someone with new ideals, as someone who has changed, finally.

Visually, Schrader never tires of giving us clues about what this story is: the fragmented man in the mirror (referencing 'Taxi Driver' more than once, which Schrader wrote), the passivity that doesn't match the backstory, the lack of decision when a situation arises. Narvel acts gradually, discreetly, preventing something from emerging there.

All this is accompanied by stellar performances: Edgerton (The Gift) plays with the moral and ethical boundaries of his character; Quintessa (Black Adam) knows how to bring a more explosive personality, without brakes and with remorse; while Sigourney Weaver (Alien) steals the scene as the unscrupulous boss, in a performance that deserved recognition in the awards season. The trio, when on screen, makes an impact. Moves the narrative.

After all this, after putting the viewer against the wall and questioning whether Narvel deserves clemency, Schrader delivers the fatal blow in the last minute, in the last dialogue, showing that there are no ex-extremists. What can happen, in fact, is a transfer of ideas: extremism leaves the human field and moves to other areas, on other fronts.

In times of extremist ideas, Schrader has something very clear to say here: it is possible to forgive an extremist, but never forget; it is possible to transform, but never to change.




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