Noble Planta, Partnership In Plants

Listening to your plants may be easier than listening to your loved ones, “Noble Planta,” a short documentary about a long partnership, suggests.

I saw the name Markovic, and was intrigued. It has the ring of being from somewhere in the former Yugoslavia. I started the video, and was as certain as could be without further investigation–the accent sounds like those from my years working in Croatia and Montenegro. But then I got pulled in to the story of this short video, and can tell you it is a short amount of time abundantly well spent. If you know any people, especially couples, who practice/share a passion for plants–their growing needs, the desire to promote them to others–you might want to take a look at the video above, and maybe share it with them. Or if you know any couples in business together, also, maybe share it. Read on to understand:

Caring for Plants, and a Marriage, in “Noble Planta”

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The inside of Noble Planta, Ched and Maria Markovic’s shop on Twenty-eighth Street, in Manhattan, is a green world, full of leafy, spiky vegetation. The pandemic seems to be good for business. Matthew Beck, who directed the short documentary “Noble Planta,” about the Markovics’ relationship with each other and their photosynthetic merchandise, recently visited. “Ched mentioned that people are spending so much time inside right now that going to get a plant seems a little more important at the moment, in an emotional or a spiritual way,” he said. In Beck’s film, Ched often talks about the care and feeding of plants as an almost mystical pursuit. But the documentary is about something more complex than the soulful rewards of gardening. While Ched extols succulents and waxes poetic about soil, his wife, Maria, can be seen glowering from behind a layer of fronds, a scathing look on her face. When Ched delivers an especially enthusiastic speech about plants’ sending messages to their keepers, she finally pipes up with a simple “B.S.!”

Beck’s film is a sort of “Odd Couple” in the flower district, a portrait of a marriage in which the bickering can be affectionate but is also, sometimes, a reflection of genuine dissatisfaction and resentment. Ched, the more voluble of the pair, is a charmer and a schmoozer; Maria is reserved and, initially, a bit prickly. Her role, as the store’s designated bad cop, is the thankless one, even if it’s crucial to keeping them afloat. (“Five dollars for the ladies,” Ched croons at a pair of young female customers. “It’s supposed to be eight,” Maria corrects him, out of view, her eye roll practically audible.)

Along the way, the documentary celebrates the minor miracle of what the couple contributes to New York City, vivifying the urban jungle with just a bit of actual jungle (as well as forest and field). At the start of “Noble Planta,” narration excerpted from an old educational film proclaims viewers’ good fortune to be surrounded by green—a sentiment that Beck colorfully confirms with shots of the Markovics’ wares bringing life to a sidewalk, a barbershop, a subway car, and an apartment.

Ched takes delight in these bursts of flora, which he seems to regard more as companions than as elements of décor. “Love, cherish, and, above all else, listen to your plants,” he advises; Maria, meanwhile, is probably clipping leaves or repotting a cactus in the back. “He sells them; he doesn’t take care of them,” she grumbles, not entirely fairly. “I take care of the plants.” This paradox—how easily we project human qualities onto things that aren’t human, even as we neglect the actual humans around us—provides the film’s humor and tension.

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