Film Reviews

Review: ‘Bosch: The Garden of Dreams

Paint-by-numbers doc on a masterpiece of fine art


Bosch: The Garden of Dreams (El Bosco, el jardín de los sueños)
(Spain/France, 90 min.)
Dir. José Luis López-Linares

Earlier this year, Alexandre Philippe devoted an entire feature documentary to analysing a single sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Critics called Philippe’s 78/52 the biggest film geek movie ever made for unpacking all 78 set-ups and 52 cuts of Psycho’s iconic shower scene in passionate detail. The world of fine art receives a similarly focused discussion in Bosch: The Garden of Dreams, José Luis López-Linares’ feature-length analysis of Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights. It’s a thoughtful seminar on an artwork that has endured for centuries and will inspire gallery-goers for many more.

The film opens Bosch’s triptych and explores the three panels in depth. A series of talking heads featuring art experts, historians, and art lovers (including author Salman Rushdie) dive into The Garden of Earthly Delights. They offer an appreciation of the work’s resonate depiction of Heaven and Hell. López-Linares captures the scale of Bosch’s work and the extraordinary detail of the piece through close-up analysis on the visual level of the canvas as well. Audiences get a full view of the artwork’s provocative bacchanal and there’s lots to savour and consider.

The doc, however, somewhat comprises its own aesthetics in order to get a close and inquisitive look. The Garden of Dreams, for a film about a grand and transformative artwork, is rather paint-by-numbers in its delivery. As a visual piece of academia, though, it is smart and insightful.

There is a lot going on in Bosch’s work and the doc zooms into special sections of the triptych as the experts unpack its meaning. Discussions of symbolism and religious allegory complement commentary about the technique and historical details, like the commissioning of the piece at a time when religion was on the decline. The context invites a hearty analysis of the painting’s mix of divine salvation, orgiastic pleasure, and nightmarish punishment. The experience is a lot like standing in a gallery and admiring the work for 90 minutes while pointing out provocative bits and interpreting them at leisure. One can only wonder which artwork of today will provide such conversations 500 years from now.

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VIFF runs Sept. 28-Oct. 13.
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