A BRIGHT STAR is back: Jane Campion

I confess that I’m a long term fan of film director/writer Jane Campion. Her work has staying power for me – everything from her short films PEEL and A GIRL’S OWN STORY, and their stylized but penetrating look at relationships, to her later more sophisticated and moving THE PIANO. However her last film IN THE CUT was disappointing. I say this reluctantly because I deeply appreciate how headlong and with what boldness Campion throws herself into every project, so when one of these experiments fail, I don’t take any pleasure in it. I just want to see her move on. And now that it’s been six years since that Meg Ryan debacle, I was a little concerned. Would she make another film and how would she get it financed in today’s climate? Would she have to compromise with a big name star who was just not quite right? Thus it’s with relief and pleasure that I saw BRIGHT STAR at its preview this week.

BRIGHT STAR follows the love affair of poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and his neighbor Fanny Braune (Abbie Cornish), the outspoken love of his life. Cornish is a talent that’s been brooding for a while. Her performance in the Australian film SOMERSAULT was electric and I along with many others have been waiting for her to become a major star. Lucky for us all that she fell into Campion’s capable directing hands and together they crafted this portrait of a young woman who is wise beyond her age and soulfully romantic in a way that never makes you want to roll your eyes.

BRIGHT STAR is an elegant movie, without as many Campion stylistic “flourishes” as one would expect. The camerawork is gentle and self effacing rather than boldly framing the story in a way that draws attention (for example the canted frames and spiraling camera in her film THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY). In doing so she lets the material rise up, material that is poetry (literally) and delicate intimacy. It’s romance without sex, where a touch and kiss are enough to make you swoon. Campion admitted in an interview (at the DGA Screening in New York) that she was interested in “finding grace in the moment.” This film makes you want to read poetry, watch butterflies and lie in a bed of flowers, all without feeling sappy and contrived. Here’s the trailer:

If you enjoy BRIGHT STAR, you might think about doing a little Campion retrospective, especially if all you’ve seen of hers is THE PIANO. I suggest starting with her short films, of which the shortest and most wonderful is PEEL. It’s a story about family and their power dynamics placed under the Campion microscope, beginning with a stubborn little boy and his orange peel. You can find this short on the Criterion Collection release of her debut film SWEETIE (also a must for a Campion retrospective). Here is a taste of the opening of PEEL: