The Gardener Depicts a Father and Son’s Journey of Religion


Mohsen Makhmalbaf calmly announces early in The Gardener that he does not belong to any religion, and is instead an agnostic filmmaker. Now in his mid-50s, the Iranian former political prisoner — long since disillusioned with his country’s government, and even living in exile since Ahmadinejad assumed power—has come to film the gardens within the world’s center for the Bahá’í faith, located in Haifa, Israel. His embittered adult son, Maysam, also a filmmaker, accompanies him while declaring that religion has caused humanity nothing but trouble. Father and son strike a deal: Each filmmaker will record the other, as Mohsen seeks to capture the good in this place and Maysam the bad. Both men go on to meet believers who explain how the Bahá’í (the largest religious minority in Iran today, and among the country’s most persecuted) understand all faiths and people to be joined beneath the same God. Mohsen quickly settles upon recording the title character, a beaming Papua New Guinea native who crouches to comb his hands through bright flowers; the filmmaker once responsible for virtuoso, tragicomic social critiques like The Cyclist(1987) and Marriage of the Blessed(1989) now delicately works to see how beautiful the world can look when people embrace each other’s differences. Maysam’s task, by contrast, requires a much wider search. His radical atheism is challenged by a Bahá’í practitioner who says that all leaves are different, together shaping the beauty of the tree.