Thursday, 30 April 2015

Bright Star

It's been a while since I participated in The Film Experience's excellent Hit Me With Your Best Shot series (and in fact, a while since I've blogged at all). But I couldn't miss an opportunity to write about one of my favourite directors. I couldn't resist deciding my favourite shot from Jane Campion's gorgeous film Bright Star, but I almost didn't make it through the whole film - it was nearly over before it even began.

Campion's films are so visually textured and mesmerizing that this opening credit itself was almost enough to be the best shot for me. What is better than the promise of beauty and the sublime?

A 2 hour visual feast, as it turns out. What I love most about Bright Star is its ability to be a cinematic encapsulation of the poetry of John Keats. Early in the film, John explains to Fanny that a "poem needs understanding through the senses. The point of diving into a lake is not immediately to swim to the shore but to be in the lake, to luxuriate in the sensation of water. You do not work the lake out, it is a experience beyond thought. Poetry soothes and emboldens the soul to accept the mystery." 

That may be also be Campion's mission statement for the film, and she succeeds abundantly. We are washed over with close ups of the lives of bees and butterflies, wide shots showcasing the exquisite beauty of fields of flowers, and tracking shots capturing the intricate designs of branches in wintry woods. 

Campion's camera is not only focused on nature, but also on the interior domesticity of her characters, and in particular Fanny. The opening shot of needle and thread symbolises the delicate detail that is the focus of Campion's eye. The following close up of the embroidery highlights how effectively the camera can convey tactile sensations, as well as celebrate arts of all different kinds. This revelry in art and detail, both exterior and interior, permeates the film.

Of the many wonderfully tactile images in the film, one of my favourites is this shot of Fanny looking out through the window.

From the camera's perspective, we, as voyeurs ourselves, are watching another voyeur discover something outside. What is it that she spies beyond the boundaries of her domesticity, fenced off by windows and hidden behind opaque curtains? What life is out there in nature? What curiosities and passions await to be discovered? For Fanny, all of that is answered in John Keats, lying on the grass, looking back at her.

It is no surprise that their first passionate kiss is outside in the gardens. Or that they symbolically play a game of statues afterwards, hoping to forever capture their bliss. And true to the understated ambiance of the film, Fanny does not run home and shout out her emotions. Instead, in what is my pick for best shot, she sits down in her bed, calming contemplating as emotions surely bubble underneath:

Trust Campion to not rely on words, but to instead let images do the talking. In this sublime scene, the curtains, once a barrier, now begin to softly wave into the room, allowing the refreshing breeze from outside to nourish the bare and plain interior. It blows and flaps until it almost weightlessly engulfs Fanny, until the breath of fresh air/love flows directly into her. For in this moment, she is on cloud nine, and all she can do is luxuriate in her emotions and her dreams of all the possible romantic possibilities that she can see beyond her window.

As an audience, we are also enraptured. Like Fanny, all we can do is sit up and luxuriate in the fresh air of Campion's vision, perfectly captured and framed, floating on the screen before our very eyes, soothing and emboldening our souls.