Friday, May 15, 2009

Jane Campion's "Bright Star" earns raves at Cannes


Does the comeback begin here? This morning gave critics their first look at Jane Campion’s Keats biopic “Bright Star” — the director’s first feature in six years, and her first foray into period drama since “The Portrait of a Lady” — and early reactions indicate a genuine return to form.

The New York Times claims there were “few dry eyes” at the press screening of the tragic romance, while Screen International’s Allan Hunter goes so far as to suggest the film “match(es) the haunting intensity” of “The Piano,” which of course landed Campion the Palme d’Or 16 years ago. Like that masterpiece, he thinks this film could also be awards-bound, not least for the lead performances of Abbie Cornish and Ben Whishaw:

Beautifully crafted in every department from the composure of the camerawork to the precision of the costume and production design, Bright Star is a film to savour. Campion ensures that its pictorial appeal is matched by an emotional engagement thanks to a universally fine cast.

(Cornish) captures all the youthful impetuosity of the English Fanny and portrays her as a young woman trying to maintain control of a life torn apart by all the fresh emotions and new sensations that she is experiencing. It is a performance that should win her awards season consideration and emphatically underlines why she is one of the most highly regarded performers of her generation. Great expectations now also attend the performances of Ben Whishaw and he is equally impressive as John Keats, making the poet an entirely human figure.

I couldn’t be more pleased to hear that Campion is back in some critics’ good books, and I can’t say how excited I am at the possibility of Cornish finally cashing in on her “next big thing” buzz; the Australian blew me away in “Somersault” four years ago, but has never found a vehicle of that standard since. Here’s hoping.

Jeff Wells, meanwhile, is professionally warm but personally cool on the film, stating that it’s “done quite perfectly,” that he has “nothing but admiration for the various elements,” but that ultimately it’s “too damnably refined.” A matter of taste, then, but he reports speculation that the Academy could find it very much to their liking:

A journalist friend told me an hour ago that Bright Star will be Oscar nominated in seven or eight categories because it delivers that particular brand of period romance fulfillment that people of a certain persuasion line up for when movies of this sort play the Royal in West Los Angeles and the Lincoln Plaza in Manhattan.

Overall, then, it looks like another Competition title has passed the initial test. When can we expect the colossal failures, or polarising puzzles, that inspire boos and hisses across the Croisette? It wouldn’t be Cannes without at least one.

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