The Cement Garden (1994)

The Cement Garden (1994) - Charlotte Gainsbourg

Taglines: Love knows no limits.

After the death of her husband, the mother of Julie, Jack, Sue and Tom begins to suffer from a mysterious illness. Aware that she is going to have to go into hospital she opens a bank account for the children, so that they can be financially self-sufficient and will be able to avoid being taken into care by the authorities.

Unfortunately she also dies and Julie and Jack (the older, teenage children) decide to hide her body in the basement so that they can have free reign of their household. Soon Tom has taken to dressing as a girl whilst Sue has become increasingly reticent, confiding only to her diary, meanwhile Jack and Julie sense an attraction developing for each other. However Julie’s new beau, Derek, threatens to unearth the many dark secrets within this family as he becomes increasingly suspicious of Jack.

The Cement Garden is a 1993 British drama film directed by Andrew Birkin and starring Charlotte Gainsbourg, Andrew Robertson, Alice Coulthard, Ned Birkin, Sinéad Cusack, Hanns Zischler, Jochen Horst, Gareth Brown and William Hootkins. It is based on the 1978 novel of the same name written by Ian McEwan. It was entered into the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival, where Birkin won the Silver Bear for Best Director.

The Cement Garden (1994)

About the Story

The film begins with Jack, a narcissistic 15-year-old boy, helping his father, a smoker with a persistent cough, unload large bags of cement to resurface the garden path of their post-war era prefab house. Despite being told to come straight home from school to help with the work the next day, Jack stops by the remains of a torn-down prefab to smoke a cigarette and read a pornographic magazine he has hidden there. When he comes home, he excuses himself to go to the toilet, where he proceeds to masturbate. As he is doing so, his father collapses from a heart attack and dies.

A few months after the tragedy, Jack’s mother and his siblings – 17-year-old Julie, 13-year-old Sue and 6-year-old Tom – are still mourning, and Jack has become apathetic to the feelings of his family, while also neglecting to wash. Jack’s mother is taken ill and becomes bedridden and frail, forcing Jack and Julie to take control of the household. Jack’s selfishness soon leads to conflict between him and his older sister.

When he attempts to remedy the tension between them by sneaking into her room and teases that she’s alone and unprotected before he tickles her sides with bee-suit gloves until he accidentally causes her to orgasm, although he attempts to cover this up from his siblings. Shortly after this, the family celebrates Jack’s 16th birthday in their mother’s bedroom. He is reluctant to contribute to the small party by singing, but when Julie does a handstand, Jack stares at her underwear, then shares an intimate moment with her by singing Greensleeves.

The Cement Garden (1994)

Although the rest of the family assume they are having fun, Julie recognises what he is doing, and plays along. This, along with another incident wherein Julie, while sunbathing in the garden, persuades Jack to rub suncreen into her back, intensifies what was initially a small affection for her into an incestuous crush. Jack soon finds himself escorting Sue and Tom to and from school, and defending Tom from a school bully, while Julie takes up the cooking and cleaning duties.

One day, while Jack is cleaning up his mother’s room, his mother informs him that her illness has become worse, and that she will have to go to hospital for a couple of months. She tells him and Julie not to tell anyone about her absence, or else they will be forced into foster care and their home will be torn down. She informs him that she has set up a savings account for them to take care of themselves for a while.

Shortly afterwards, the mother dies at home of her illness. Grief-stricken and with no one else to go to, the siblings spend a miserable night together consoling each other in their living room. Remembering their last promise to their mother, Jack and Julie secretly resolve to hide her body. That night, they take the remaining bags of cement that Jack’s father had bought the day before he died, create a crude mixture of cement and entomb their mother’s body in a cement sarcophagus.

The Cement Garden Movie Poster (1994)

The Cement Garden (1994)

Directed by: Andrew Birkin
Starring: Charlotte Gainsbourg, Andrew Robertson, Alice Coulthard, Ned Birkin, Sinéad Cusack, Hanns Zischler, Jochen Horst, Gareth Brown, William Hootkins
Screenplay by: Andrew Birkin, Ian McEwan
Production Design by: Bernd Lepel
Cinematography by: Stephen Blackman
Film Editing by: Toby Tremlett
Costume Design by: Bernd Lepel
Art Direction by: Amanda Grenville
Music by: Ed Shearmur
Distributed by: October Films
Release Date: February 11, 1994