Friday, 5 December 2014

Bright Star (2009)

Exquisite is the word that best describes Bright Star (Jane Campion 2009), and that encompasses all aspects of the film. The dialogue, the music, the movements, the butterflies, the flowers, the cat, the tea, and above all the clothes that Fanny Brawne makes, and is so proud of.


She is the central character in the film, a strong-willed young woman who lives with her mother and her younger sister and brother. They are close to the poets John Keats and Charles Armitage Brown, who live and work together. Fanny Brawne and Keats are rather alike, passionate and headstrong, and they are also deeply in love, although nobody else approve of this, for different reasons. Financial reasons for some (Keats is poor, and has few prospects of becoming less so), whereas Charles Brown seems to be jealous of the love affair, as well as thinking it interferes with their writing.


But Bright Star is not a film of conflict, it is rather a film of beauty; delicate and sensuous. Although it too is sensuous, it is far from the blood, mud and sex found in Campion's The Piano (1993), not to mentioned In the Cut (2003). But the same fascination with the texture of fabrics and things, of close-ups of hair, needlework, cloth, body parts, is there, as it always is in Campion's films, and people looking at each other through fingers or curtains or something else which is not exactly seen (as it is so close to the camera) but rather just felt, as a thin veil between the person (or us) watching and whoever is being watched. And it also seems to be a conscious effort to visualise the poetry of Keats.


Campion had earlier made an adaptation of Henry James's novel The Portrait of a Lady (the film came out 1996) and although Bright Star is based on a true story, and the characters in it real, it sometimes feels like an adaptation of Jane Austen, because of its tone, setting and cast of characters. Fanny Brawne could easily be an Austen heroine. She is tempered and proud, and as she is also witty she uses her wit to hurt others. She knows what she wants and aims to get it. Although had this actually been a story by Austen it would probably have ended with her and Charles Brown getting married.

Instead it ends in tragedy, as John Keats died as a young man and Fanny Brawne desperately calls out to her mother for help, being unable to breathe when she is told about his death in Rome. It is a powerful scene and Abbie Cornish, who plays Fanny, is very good, there and elsewhere. She and the film are equally exquisite.

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Another good film with Abbie Cornish is Somersault (Cate Shortland 2004). Trailer here.

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