An exceptionally great movie will not win the Oscar for best film later today or deliver the golden statue to Fernando Meirelles for best director. In neither category has the The Constant Gardener been nominated. Yet it deserves to be recognised as a defining work of the beginning of the century.
As well as classic thriller ingredients of love, death, loyalty, treason and suspense it shows something else that makes it truly original. I won’t say makes it ‘a work of art’ because that might sound like an appeal to art-house difficulty or pretention which it does not suffer from at all. What is has is the popular greatness of an artistic breakthrough.
There are many films which illuminate the pain of globalisation for people who are in or from developing countries: the turmoil of imposed modernisation, the suffering of odysseys of migration and the vigour of refusal and resistance.
The Constant Gardener takes this almost as a given. What it shows is globalisation itself: its inner cheap energy and the different servants of its growth. These include the cynically corrupt politicians of the African country where it takes place (Kenya is the location, talk about being spot on!), the hi-tech advantages of western big-pharma, the degraded opportunism of the United Kingdom’s diplomatic corps, the crude violence of indigenous Africa as well as its dignified capacity for suffering, both of which permit its exploitation. From the weight of railways to the lightness of apple mac video messages, the domination of contemporary corporate interests and the tenacity of resistance to them is shown without untrue sentimentality - and in a way that lets us experience the forces at work.
In this case these forces do not include American imperialism. The Constant Gardener does not celebrate America in any way, either positive or negative. Corporate globalisation always feeds off state power. But today it has no essential national face. It takes place without, as well as with, the United States, which is no longer necessary to it. The passion, distance and experience of a British novelist and a Brazilian filmmaker have combined to illuminate our world in a way that puts Hollywood in its place.