Film review: GARDENING WITH SOUL, from Built For Speed

New Zealand documentary Gardening with Soul presents the charming and at times poignant story of 90-year-old Sister Loyola Galvin who oversees the garden at the Home of Compassion in Island Bay Wellington.  With Sister Loyola narrating, the film explores her daily life tending to residents of the home and to her garden.  The film also delves into her history as a nun including her early work as nurse caring for children, particularly the disabled and those affected thalidomide.

Director Jess Feast attempts to examine the human behind the religious garb as it touches on Sister Loyola’s decision to enter the church and her opinions about relationships, particularly her relationship with her father. The film provides some valuable insights but the biographical information is a little brief and superficial.  Instead, the film focuses on her gardening and through this conveys her nurturing spirit, sense of commitment and uncomplaining work ethic.

The film also examines her faith and her take on the Catholic Church which, like our Father Bob’s, eschews dogma in favour of compassion and pragmatism; Sister Loyola is, however, more traditional and less maverick than Father Bob. This film also makes an interesting contrast with the Father Bob documentary in terms of cinematic technique.  Gardening with Soul is quiet and meditative and concerned with work and humble acts of compassion while the Father Bob film was about conflict with church hierarchy and employed rapid-fire montages that were disturbingly reminiscent of the Ludivico’s treatment in A Clockwork Orange.

Gardening with Soul also provides insights into the status of women within the Catholic Church as Sister Loyola quietly laments the lack of authority afforded women.   

Also, while the issue isn’t examined in great depth, Sister Loyola speaks harshly and regretfully of sexual abuses in the Catholic Church.

Although extremely active in the garden and still intellectually sharp, Sister Loyola’s health is fading and she needs walking sticks to move around. Thankfully, though, the film never treats her with treacly sentiment. The film does, however, convey quite movingly the affection bestowed upon Sister Loyola by her now adult charges.

Gardening with Soul is about 15 minutes too long and becomes repetitive. There’s also the gnawing suspicion that this film is, as much as anything else, a quirky advertisement for the church. Still, Sister Loyola’s strength of character and compassion is undeniable and makes for a moving and uplifting film.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Documentary.

Classification: G.

Director(s): Jess Feast.

Release date: 29thMay 2014

Running time: 100 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. 


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