Wednesday, September 18, 2013


Directed by Jane Campion and screenplay by Campion and Gerard Lee from a story by Campion, Sweetie is the story of a twenty-something woman and her tumultuous relationship with her troubled sister as well as their family. The film explores the dysfunctional world of family as well as one woman’s desire to define herself in that chaos as she also has a sister who emotionally-unstable. Starring Genevieve Lemon, Karen Colston, Tom Lycos, and Jon Darling. Sweetie is an entrancing yet captivating film from Jane Campion.

The film explores the life of a buttoned-down yet superstitious woman who has finally found herself in a relationship but is still repressed by her superstitions. When her younger yet emotionally-unstable sister makes an unexpected arrival, it only adds to the multitude of problems that Kay (Karen Colston) is having as she also learns that her parents had split up when her father (Jon Darling) also makes an unexpected arrival. For Kay, she has to think about how the presence of her sister Sweetie (Genevieve Lemon) is affecting her already dysfunctional family as well as her relationship with Louis (Tom Lycos). It’s a film that explores not just a woman’s repression but also the fears and insecurities she has while being unaware of how troubled her sister is who is the exact opposite of Kay.

The screenplay by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee is largely told from Kay’s perspective as she is a woman who is trying to find answers through a fortune teller in order to maintain a life that is safe and without complications. It is there that Kay would meet Louis as she unknowingly steals him away from a co-worker as there’s love in the relationship but Kay’s fear of sex and omens started to strain things. The arrival of Sweetie only adds more strain as Louis is fascinated by her but Sweetie is essentially a human tornado who acts very childlike and likes to have fun while hoping she would get a break into the music industry. Yet, Sweetie is also uncontrollable and vigorous where Kay and Sweetie’s father Gordon would eventually make an arrival as he is the only one that can talk to Sweetie though he’s admittedly guilty of indulging her and such. Even to the point that his wife Flo (Dorothy Barry) finally returns as the family tries to figure out how to help Sweetie.

Campion’s direction is truly mesmerizing in the way she presents the life of a young woman and her dysfunctional family including her sister. Notably in the way it plays into Kay’s life as she often narrates the film express not just her repression but also the sense of fear that she’s been living. A lot of the compositions that Campion creates is often full of close-ups and wide shots to play into the sense of fear that Kay is living in as she has a hard time trying to get into the next step of her relationship with Louis. Even to the point where Campion would bring in some sexual imagery to showcase Kay’s attempt to take that step but she feels uncomfortable in being fully nude to Louis. A lot of the first act has a sense of claustrophobia that is prevalent until the arrival of Sweetie where the film is carried with this new sense of energy that is unpredictable, exciting, and dangerous.

Shot largely in Sydney with parts of the film shot in New South Wales, Campion infuses the film with a lot of symbolism such as the porcelain horses that Kay has to the small tree that she pulled out of her backyard that she put under the bed because of an omen she might’ve had. Even as the film would have this very calm sequence of Gordon, Kay, and Louis going to the New South Wales desert to find Flo as it would be a moment to reinforce the idea of family but not everything is perfect where Campion goes to great lengths to display a depth of field to show how apart the family really is. Notably as Sweetie would find a way to get the family together but in the most troubling circumstances that forces Kay to realize more about herself. Overall, Campion creates a very tender yet harrowing film about family dysfunctions and a repressed woman’s relationship with her sister.

Cinematographer Sally Bongers does amazing work with the film‘s very colorful cinematography from the look of the exteriors to some of the more sepia-drenched look of some of the flashback scenes involving a young Sweetie as well as some lighting schemes for the interior scenes. Editor Veronika Jenet does excellent work with the editing in creating some montages that plays to Kay‘s fears as well as some simplistic yet steady cuts to play into the drama that unfolds throughout the film. Art director Peter Harris does superb work with the look of the house that Kay and Louis live in to the home that Flo and Gordon live in that includes the tree house that Sweetie loved as a child.

Costume designer Amanda Lovejoy does nice work with the costumes with the more buttoned-up clothing of Kay to the more punk-Goth clothes that Sweetie wears. Sound supervisor John Dennison does terrific work with the sound to play up some of the craziness that Sweetie causes in Kay‘s home as well as the low-key moments in the beaches and deserts. The film’s music by Martin Armiger is wonderful for its mixture of choir-based orchestral music that plays into the drama as well as a music soundtrack that includes elements of rock, alternative, and country music.

The film’s cast is fantastic as it features some notable small appearances from Jean Hadgraft as the fortune teller, Paul Livingston as the fortune teller’s mentally-challenged son, Louise Fox as Louis’ old girlfriend Cheryl, Emma Jane Fowler as the young Sweetie, Andre Pataczek as the adolescent neighbor Clayton whom Sweetie likes to play with, and Michael Lake as Sweetie’s boyfriend/music producer Bob who is always inebriated to the point that he later goes missing. Jon Darling and Dorothy Barry are excellent as Kay and Sweetie’s parents Gordon and Flo, respectively, with Darling providing a vulnerability as a father dealing with his guilt while Barry showcases a woman in need of a break while showcasing a remarkable talent that Kay never knew. Tom Lycos is superb as Louis as a young man who is attracted to Kay but becomes frustrated with her repression as he tries to deal with her family as well as Sweetie whom he is intrigued by as he later becomes overwhelmed by her.

Karen Colston is amazing as Kay as a woman who is driven by fear and superstition as she is upset about the arrival of her sister while dealing with herself as it would affect her relationship with Louis as Colston is engaging to display Kay’s issues and her reluctance to face up to them. Finally, there’s Genevieve Lemon in a sprawling performance as the titular character as a young woman who is a real firecracker as she does things that are very off-the-wall as she would sometimes act like a dog or do all sorts of things that is quite shocking. It’s definitely a performance that is a mixture of comedy, horror, and drama as it really indicates a look into a woman who is clearly troubled and in need of help.

The 2006 Region 1 DVD/Region A Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection presents the film in a newly-restored high-definition digital transfer under the supervision of filmmaker Jane Campion and cinematographer Sally Bongers. Presented in its 1:85:1 theatrical aspect ratio as well as a new 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound mix, the DVD includes many special features in relation to not just the film but also a trio of Campion’s early shorts.

The audio commentary track that features Jane Campion, co-writer Gerard Lee, and cinematographer Sally Bongers has the trio talk about the film as well as their years in film school. Campion and Bongers do a lot of the talking early on while Lee would later pop up into the conversation 25 minutes into the film. Lee admits that the Louis character is based on him while Campion said some of Kay is based on herself while Sweetie is sort of based on her sister Anna whom she dedicated the film to for helping her deal with their manic-depressive mother on the last days of shooting when Jane wasn’t available. Campion and Bongers point out a few technical things while Campion and Lee talk about the story and such. Even as all three reveal the inexperience they had which they admitted was fruitful as they had people that were supportive of them. It’s a very lively and fun commentary track that is full of laughter but also some sobering moments that relates to the dramatic elements of the film.

The 23-minute video conversation with actresses Genevieve Lemon and Karen Colston has the two actresses talking about their experience in making the film. Notably as it was their time doing a film as they both discuss the characters as well as working with Jane Campion. Even as Lemon reveals some making-of footage that she made during the film’s production. The two also talk about the film’s reception at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival where it did get some boos but also some cheers. Yet, the film did manage to give them vital careers in Australia with Lemon still working with Campion while Colston has become a producer. The 19-minute conversation between Jane Campion and film critic Peter Thompson entitled Jane Campion: The Film School Years is from a 1989 TV Australian TV special. It’s a short piece that includes clips from Campion’s trio of shorts as she talks about her experiences in film school as well as her thoughts about her filmmaking style. Even as she was on the verge of developing her cinematic style with her first feature film.

Three of Campion’s early shorts films are included in the special features. The first of which is the 9-minute An Exercise in Discipline: Peel. The short revolves around a family going on a road trip when a boy gets in trouble by throwing orange peels out of the car as his father orders to pick up the peels. It’s a very entrancing short that explores the dynamic of family as well as the idea of discipline where things don’t go exactly as the father has planned. Filled with some entrancing close-ups and images, it’s definitely the work of someone who clearly has ideas of her own.

The 12-minute Passionless Moments is a short co-written and co-directed with Gerard Lee that features many vignettes about the lives of various people doing mundane things. It’s an interesting short that features some unique compositions as well as some strange stories such as a fat man doing yoga, a woman thinking about a pig, and a man cleaning his jeans as he thinks about the Monkees’ song Daydream Believer. Shot in black-and-white that includes camera work from future Australian filmmaker Alex Proyas and featuring a narrator, it’s a short that is quite engaging to way people do things in their lives.

The 27-minute A Girl’s Own Story is a black-and-white short film that explore two young girls fascination with sexuality in the 1960s. Notably as one girl becomes pregnant while another is dealing with the marriage of her parents as it is a coming of age film that features an entrancing musical section towards the end of the film. It features a lot of strange images and compositions that would be a trademark of Campion’s work as it’s definitely the best of the three shorts.

The DVD special features also include the film’s original theatrical trailer as well as a photo gallery from Regis Lansac on the film’s production. The DVD also features a booklet that includes an essay by film scholar Dana Polan called Jane Campion's Experiment. The essay has Polan talking about the film and its quirkiness and how the film seems to be the bridging point between Campion’s trio of shorts that she made in films school to the subsequent films she would make in the years to come. Polan also discusses the film’s unique style of narrative as it relates to the titular character and how crucial she is to play into Kay’s development as a person as it’s a wonderful read that accompanies a great DVD release.

Sweetie is a remarkable film from Jane Campion highlighted by the performances Karen Colston and Genevieve Lemon. The film isn’t just a compelling portrait of a dysfunctional family as well as a look into the relationship between two sisters. It’s a film that also explores a woman’s journey into self-discovery through her dysfunctional family as she had been constrained by her fears. In the end, Sweetie is an enchanting film from Jane Campion.

Jane Campion Films: An Angel at My Table - The Piano - The Portrait of a Lady - Holy Smoke! - In the Cut - Bright Star - Top of the Lake (TV Miniseries) - (Top of the Lake-China Girl) - The Power of the Dog - The Auteurs #25: Jane Campion

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