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The Auteurs Daily: Toronto. Bright Star

The Auteurs Daily

Bright Star

"Jane Campion's Bright Star gives us not a brash or bratty Keats," writes Jessica Winter at Moving Image Source, "but textbook emo-Keats: feline and kind, delicate and almost vaporous, a little histrionic; Nick Drake with a cough he caught from Conor Oberst. (The actor who plays Keats, Ben Whishaw, is an experienced rock star, having done Rimbaud-as-Dylan in I'm Not There, Keith Richards in Stoned, and, in 2004 at the Old Vic, the only age-appropriate Hamlet I've ever seen.) For her part, Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish) is textbook Campion: an inconvenient woman. In Bright Star's 1818 Hampstead, a monstrous minx is simply one who makes her own clothes (and boasts of making her own money from it) and who deflects unwanted attentions, in this case from boorish Charles Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider), Keats's amanuensis and self-appointed gatekeeper, and Bright Star's semi-villain."

"Part of Bright Star's intelligence is its lack of hysteria, the almost matter-of-fact way that Campion places her characters on the same level playing field, with Fanny condescending to Charles in much the same manner that he does to her." Ed Gonzalez: "The film is, at its core, the tale of a ménage à trios, with Fanny ingratiating herself into John's life to the utter mortification of Charles, who reveres the time he shares with his friend as if they were lovers - or understands their time to be short." And blogging from Toronto for Slant is Fernando F Croce, who's a little less taken by the film.

"There's no question the film puts Campion back on terra firma after a series of bold-but-failed experiments of the literary (A Portrait of a Lady), idiosyncratic (Holy Smoke!), and genre (In the Cut) kind," writes Scott Tobias at the AV Club. "A second viewing beckons, but for now, I'm more intrigued by the film's rich peripheral details than the young, swooning would-be lovers they're supporting."

David Edelstein in New York: "Bright Star is the nearest the New Zealand–born auteur Campion has come to what Keats called 'negative capability,' which I’ll define here as entering fully into an imaginative world and leaving one’s arty mannerisms and punishingly masochistic feminist agenda behind."

"Campion handles as well as any director has the impossible task of fitting poetry into everyday life," writes David Denby in the New Yorker. "Keats speaks plainly and vigorously much of the time, but he also slips into metaphor and eloquence as easily as the rest of us slip into banality."

"As a scholar of literature who has always found the Romantic poets to be more narcissistic and self-indulgent than deep, more about sensation than truth and beauty, I was deeply appreciative of the film's ability to make me understand the greatness of Keats's and Brawne's spirits and not merely their accomplishments." Kenneth Morefield, Campbell University, blogging for Christianity Today.

Ella Taylor profiles Campion for the New York Times; Livia Bloom talks with her for Filmmaker.

Interviews with Paul Schneider: Kristopher Tapley (In Contention) and Sara Vilkomerson (New York Observer).

Bright Star premiered in Cannes, screened in Toronto this weekend and sees a limited release on Friday.

Updates, 9/15: "Whishaw's reserved performance and Cornish's sensitive turn work in tandem to create a poignant portrait of longing and (largely unconsummated) passion," writes Nick Schager. "Ultimately more moving, however, is the film's deft evocation of Keats's prose through both integrated spoken-word passages that feel both natural and reverent, as well as via seasonal snapshots of the verdant English countryside that (along with numerous images of caressing hands) have a potent tactility."

Online listening tip. Campion is a guest on the Leonard Lopate Show.

Updates, 9/17: A "sequence in which, fully clothed, the couple trades stanzas of 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci' in a half-darkened bedroom must surely count as one of the hottest sex scenes in recent cinema," writes AO Scott in the New York Times. "The heat of that moment and others like it deliver Bright Star from the tidy prison of period costume drama. Ms Campion, with her restless camera movements and off-center close-ups, films history in the present tense, and her wild vitality makes this movie romantic in every possible sense of the word."

"Bright Star, which might have been adapted from the Jane Austen novel that Emily Brontë never wrote, creates its own hermetic world," writes J Hoberman in the Voice. "The requisite end titles suggest that Fanny consecrated her life to Keats's memory; in fact, she married and had three children who eventually became rich on the sale of the letters she sensibly saved. Shadowed by the knowledge of love's evanescence, this is a movie of undeniable pathos. But that does not make it sublime."

"Campion has an undeniable talent for casting peripheral roles," notes Keith Uhlich in Time Out New York: "Brawne's two siblings, Samuel (Thomas Sangster) and 'Toots' (Edie Martin), seem as if they've stepped, coattailed and frill-adorned, out of a far-gone past. Such at-the-margins excellence unfortunately makes the pallid, modern-day mooniness of Whishaw and Cornish look all the more like a sore thumb."

"Bright Star is unabashedly beautiful, but first and foremost an unsentimental ode to the painful bonds of love," writes Michael Joshua Rowin in the L Magazine.

Matt Frassica talks with the players for the New York Observer.

Updates, 9/19: "For a film that tries so mightily to appear intoxicated by art's capacity for beholding and creating beauty, Bright Star just isn't inquisitive enough about how such beauty takes shape in the gap between reader and writer," writes Andrew Chan in Reverse Shot. "Campion hasn't found a solution for the difficulties that many films about artists face: that tendency to keep the creative process in its own private universe, largely hidden from the audience's view, and to settle for biographical explanations in describing how the artist's work intersects with his life."

On the other hand, Salon's Stephanie Zacharek: "Bright Star is the first Jane Campion I've ever liked, and that includes Sweetie and the oft-praised The Piano."

And back again, with Paul Constant, writing in the Stranger: "It's not that Keats is an uninteresting subject - he is at least twice as interesting as Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix combined - but the lack of art on display in Bright Star is enough to turn you off Keats for a good long while."

Online listening tip. Campion is Elvis Mitchell's guest on The Treatment; viewing: Michael Hogan talks with her for Vanity Fair.

Updates, 9/22: Martha Polk finds Bright Star "disappointingly conservative, and made so only by the mindful feminist triumphs that play out in her previous films."

Scott Tobias interviews Campion for the AV Club.

Update, 9/23: "That Bright Star is more interesting than anything in its genus shouldn't be a shock from a director forever incapable of making an uninteresting film," writes Matt Prigge in the Philadelphia Weekly. "After all, In the Cut is an underrated feminization of the erotic thriller, while Holy Smoke is the kind of eminently watchable trainwreck only a genius could make. Bright Star could use some of those films' nuttiness; it's still a bit too hampered by genre concerns. But if this is 'safe' for Campion, she need not hurry to return to form."

Update, 9/24: Stephen Saito talks with Schneider for IFC.

TIFF 09: Index; full coverage; lineup.

 

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