Dying Light

Jane Campion's ‘Bright Star'

Somewhere within Jane Campion's unmistakable gift for filmmaking resides a diffidence. She would rather dreamily contemplate her characters than sound their depths. Perhaps there is a voice inside her head insinuating that too much motivation hunting becomes a violation, a psychological presumptuousness. Or is it simply that Campion needs a scriptwriter to start the probing for her? For me, her best work remains An Angel at My Table, adapted from Janet Frame's autobiography by the talented Laura Jones. Jones's script showed no compunction about letting us see precisely how and why Angel's heroine found herself at odds with society, and how she achieved mental equipoise and self-respect through the exercise of her literary talent. Campion's visualization of Jones's writing infused the story with mystery and even spirituality, and none of it was achieved by withholding psychological insight.

The rest of Campion's work suffers from a weird vagueness. The Piano, universally acclaimed and laden with prizes, is still for me (after two viewings) a ditzy Down Under version of Lady Chatterley's Lover, miscast and artily filmed, with the heroine's self-imposed muteness a mere gimmick. In the Cut? An impossible project because the plot became hokey crime melodrama when divorced from the language of Susanna Moore's book. Holy Smoke? A battle of the sexes in which Campion so unquestioningly favored her heroine that true...

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About the Author

Richard Alleva has been reviewing movies for Commonweal since 1990.