Australian Jane Campion‘s provocative new release Sweetie hits Scotland.
INDEX 40: LISTINGS: WEEK ONE 48 WEEK TWO 49
As Jane Campion’s controversial debut feature Sweetie opens in Scotland, Filmhouse director Jim Hickey recalls encounters with the spiky Antipodean‘s films at home and abroad, while below, Maxine
Little catches up with the film-maker herself.
Off-screen time gets distorted in this business too. It‘s hard to believe that it's almost a year now since I experienced that sensation peculiar to the Cannes Film Festival. It involves the unveiling of a film in competition which upsets the French
There are always hundreds of these critics at Cannes— it is after all their annual fixture on their home ground. At the prestigious competition screenings. the first whistle followed by the clunk ofa vacated seat is often heard about twenty minutes into the film. followed by a few dozen more at intervals. ()thers postpone whistling till
On this particular occasion I recall. there are rival groups clapping and cheering. but a far
‘Making films seemed beyond anything I could do’, confesses Jane Campion. The New Zealand-born director soon proved herself wrong when she began making shorts at art school. Then came herfirst feature film and the learning process began again.
‘The character of Sweetie could have been an absolute disaster’, recalls Campion. ‘It could have been completely charmless, but I think the reason I was really excited about Genevieve (Lemon) was that she’s very babyish and cute as well as being a monster. . . The thing that Genevieve is not at all is very aggressive and we had to work on that. She hates people to dislike her’.
The collaborative film-making process seems to have involved a good
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deal of mutual encouragement to make sure that everyone felt free to go over the top. One of the most striking elements about Sweetie is the bizarre camera work. ‘I think she’s a little genius’, says Campion of Sally Bongers, her director of photography. ‘She is fantastically poetic and clever
greater number leave with nothing they want to express but plenty to think about. This has been the reception accorded to Jane Campion's first feature film. Sweetie. It's a cruel world alright. a view which to some extent the film endorses. But why is it that a film which shows evidence of being directed by someone with real talent arouses such
Sweetie undoubtedly has unique qualities in a field where they are in short supply these days. The only other film at this Cannes with such a distinct sensibility and confident tone has been Monsieur Hire. Later. as it turns out. Sweetie has the post-Cannes critics reaching for their David Lynch similes and their shorthand surrealism. and these can easily be incorporated into an equation defining Jane (.‘ampion‘s style.
ller films don‘t just hold a mirror up to the world; she is more likely to be using a pair of mirrors to give a clearer understanding of the shapes of things and their place in the world. l-ler style might seem blunt in the way that Australian speech patterns can be. Her viewpoint is usually
with her lighting and very brave in the things that she‘ll do, and its a braveness born of fanaticism . . . We egged each other on. When you’re making a first feature like we were, and it’s not a very big budget, we felt the strongest requirement on us was to be bold about it, y’know? It didn't seem a time to be conservative and do what everyone else was doing.’
There seems little chance of that. Her next project, a three-part TV movie based on the autobiographies of New Zealand author, Janet Frame, takes a head-on look at insanity. “Everyone knew she spent some time in a mental hospital but there was a lot of gossip and rumour about it. So when she wrote her own account of her life it was completely fascinating . . . She wrote a
oblique but is rooted in real observation and precisely remembered moments. The territory explored is familiar. Families and their capacity to inflict pain on each other while developing their own extraordinary codes of humorous and bizarre behaviour. It is also clear that the adolescent years of her characters provide Campion with some of her best material.
Campion‘s short films first announced her deadpan approach. Passionless Moments which was entered for the 1984 Edinburgh Film Festival. was my first experience of her work. As the Director of the Festival. part ofmy job was to spend most evenings in June selecting programmes from over 200 submitted films and videos. Passionless Moments initially stood out as an arresting title (usually a good sign).
The film‘s 13-minute span revealed an unusual series of everyday portraits - a mosaic of the prosaic — that gave expression to a very original voice. The characters on-screcn occupied those blank moments between stretches of meaningful living (one of them muses on the meaning of ‘sleepy jeans’ in a song by the Monkees). These were the kinds ofAussie neighbours that I wanted to see more of. The film was duly selected and in 1986 Campion's other short films were featured at Edinburgh and Cannes.
C ampion‘s co-writer on Passionless Moments, Gerard Lee. is also her collaborator on Sweetie. and the new feature extends the off-beat qualities of the short film into areas that are altogether darker. There is a weirdness here that could be the stuff ofthe tabloids. but Campion‘s acuity conveys emotional truths that are a joy to recognise.
Sweetie (15) will be shown at Edinburgh Filmhouse from 6—22 May and at Glasgow Film Theatre front 13—22 May. Three programmes of recent Australian short films including Jane Campion ’s Passionless M oments. A Girl 's ()wn Story and Peel will be shown at Edinburgh Filmhouse and GET in June.
very powerful novel called Owls Do Cry about a girl who is going mad. I remember reading it when I was about thirteen and thinking “Oh my God, this is life . . . and I think I've always had a really strong affection for her ever since.’
She brushes off the obvious hatred that her own work has provoked from certain critics — at last year’s Cannes Film Festival Sweetie was both applauded and booed. ‘Most of the people I know wouldn’t find that sort of thing offensive so it was a bit of a rude awakening about the rest of the world.’ The suggestion of impatience in her voice quickly fades: ‘I don’t want to judge them; they have the right to be disgusted. . .’
The List 4-- 17 May 199039