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The hanging garden of the film's title, is a small flower-garden in the backyard of a middle-class Nova Scotia family's acreage, where the abusive, alcoholic father Whiskey Mac (Peter MacNeill) teaches his children the names and blooming seasons of his favourite flowers. Mac, it is obvious, cares more for his garden than for his children. The film opens ten years after the incident that gives the film its title, as Sweet William (Chris Leavins) returns to the family house for his sister Rosemary's (Kerry Fox) wedding. Rosemary (played as a teenager by Sarah Polley) is a foul-mouthed, chainsmoking, yet loving sister to Sweet William, always the most supportive of the family. The fact that she's marrying the very man that William shared his first homosexual experience with only complicates matters, and the flirtatious bridegroom's passes at Sweet William are making him rather uncomfortable. But he’s over his childhood troubles, more or less.

"The Hanging Garden is both compelling and irritating, seriously flawed yet richly evocative. It's a film that sometimes makes sense, other times is incomprehensible. For the most part, the film has a lyrical eloquence to it, an emotional resonance that results in some truly powerful passages, as it explores the pain of adolescence, growing up and sexual confusion, handled in atypical fashion. The film's main problems are director Fitzgerald's self-conscious direction and somewhat overt slices of symbolism that border on repetition. The film also fails to resolve some crucial moments that need some kind of closure. On a technical level, there are some fine cinematic touches, such as the beautiful cinematography [it was expertly shot in Canada's exquisite Nova Scotia], and a wonderfully thematic musical score gives the movie some added depth. Performances are mixed, with the best from the women, in particular young and vibrant newcomer Sarah Polley as the young Rosemary; New Zealand's fine Kerry Fox shines as her adult counterpart. Regrettably Chris Leavins, in such a vital role, fails to deliver the complexity of William's now adult confusion. There is a lot to admire about The Hanging Garden, and it's certainly well worth seeing, but it somehow just misses the mark."
Paul Fischer

"Agreed, Paul. Fitzgerald has stated that through this film he wanted to "put out the message to unhappy people that no matter how much you hate your life and yourself in the current moment, it is possible to become the person you want to be, so hang in there." (Presumably the last phrase wasn’t meant to be a pun on the title.) This is entirely valid and praiseworthy as a propellant, but his storytelling techniques seem to have defeated his purpose. While emotional hooks and handles are abundant, Fitzgerald uses time switching to try and tell his story – but he hasn’t mastered the device. The stated objective comes out confused and contradictory as Sweet William embraces (literally) his own ghosts before burying them. The symbolism is clumsy and done without cinematic flair. These factors detract from the film’s emotional progress, rendering it vaguely irritating at times. But perhaps you should judge for yourself: it won the Audience Award as well as Best Canadian Feature Award at the 1997 Toronto Film Festival."
Andrew L. Urban

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CAST: Chris Leavins, Kerry Fox, Seana McKenna, Peter MacNeill, Christine Dunworth, Troy Veinotte, Sarah Polley, Joel S. Keller, Joan Orenstein

PRODUCERS: Louise Garfield, Arnie Gelabrt, Thom Fitgerald

DIRECTOR: Thom Fitzgerald

SCRIPT: Thom Fitzgerald


EDITOR: Susan Shanks

MUSIC: John Roby


RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes



AWARDS: Audience Award and Best Canadian Feature Award, 1997 Toronto Film Festival

VIDEO RELEASE: May 4, 1999
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Entertainment

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