Bright Star (Jane Campion, 2009)

by Smart

There are few experiences more rewarding than watching a film that knows precisely what it is and is able to flourish without restriction or compromise as a result of this. Without narrative pressure or contrived dramatics, Bright Star presents a deep and relatable romance, driven by a subdued intensity and sophisticated insight that burrows right down to the heart of love and loss. It is a remarkably unassuming film, which makes it all the more real and lingering as it allowed me to reflect on what is most important in life. There is a delicate balance between the organic and the cinematic, not just in the writing but also the aesthetic, which feels as much like a living painting as it does a carefully considered recreation of the time period. Glorious nature floods our eyes in each exterior scene, feeling boundless and profound in its beauty. The story follows suit, unfolding slowly and building upon itself cohesively; its world, its characters and its trajectory are all surreptitiously gripping. By the start of the second act I was hooked, unable and unwilling to let go. I did not perceive a single misstep as I became entranced with each wonderful shot, with each movement, with each flicker of an eye, each brick, each flower, each frivolous, lively hat or costume. It is, most suitably, visual poetry.

Jane Campion has found divine moments inside narrow spaces, often through the use of shallow focus or expressionistic yet naturalistic lighting. This wavering cinematography separates each layer of each frame to such a degree that they can be savoured almost as individual flavours. It is only later that they combine to form a complete image, then able to articulate a full, mature resonance. In these narrow spaces, which exist only for fleeting moments, intimacy is found. This is a heartbreaking intimacy, one that you can never hold onto and only stumble upon by sheer luck, or perhaps by sheer misfortune. Yet I have a feeling  that Campion looks at this tragic romance with an optimistic eye, able to appreciate that happiness, even if only for such a short spell, is worthy of a lifetime of emotion. Ben Whishaw’s performance is, just as I had expected, terrific. He carries himself with enough dignity to command respect and presence as a figure, and enough humour and tenderness to garner my affection for him as a man lost in love. However, Abbie Cornish, who plays Fanny, the central figure of the film, may have outdone him. Her performance is complex, animated and, much like her ever-changing wardrobe, fits the film adroitly. By and large Bright Star is quiet, elusive and collectively personal. It never goes out of its way or loses its modesty, and for that I am thankful. Set and costume design does not get any better, and rarely do films come across so effortless, so inspired and touching, so simultaneously genuine and elegant.