Saturday, May 21, 2011

FI: Bright Star

Bright Star
UK/Australia/France, 2009
Directed by Jane Campion

In Bright Star, Jane Campion turns her lush cinematic eye to the story of Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), lover and source of inspiration to the great Romantic poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw). Keats, of course, died in relatively obscurity at 25, though his poems became amongst the most studied and well-recognized of the Romantic school. The film suggests, in a gentle and unforced way, that his time with Brawne in the Hampstead countryside allowed the full flower of his poetical gifts to bloom.

Campion focuses on the small, poetic details of Brawne's life, here evoking her sensuality with the movement of a foot, there showing her fragility with a tightly-framed broom sweeping up fallen butterflies. She and cinematographer Greig Fraser (on what appears to be his first major international movie) have crafted a film that is gorgeous to look at, its detail-rich frames designed for close observation and thematic impact.

Where the film falls down—and, even then, only slightly—is in its script and pacing. Scenes of Brawne, overcome by emotion during Keats's many absences, grow repetitive and slow the film. The story sometimes follows too closely to the typical pattern of the artist-and-muse biopic, and when it deviates from this pattern (which it frequently does), the deviations feel more out-of-place than convention-challenging. As clearly as Brawne's family's feelings are expressed, there seems little real threat to her and Keats's relationship from that quarter, aside from the repressive class codes that ultimately keep them apart. Still, these are minor quibbles, and putting aside the slight emo vibes, Bright Star is a beautiful look at how poetry is all around, even finding expression when social forces conspire to doom the love that inspires its creation.

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