This week in Hit Me With Your Best Shot, our friend Nathaniel, whose website The Film Experience is celebrating the work of Jane Campion this month, asked us to watch the director’s latest theatrical feature (which came out an unacceptable six years ago! – I know she made Top of the Lake in the mean time, but such a brilliant filmmaker ought to be more prolific). I’m talking, of course, about Bright Star, the biographical romance between Romantic poet John Keats and Fanny Brawne, the young woman he was engaged to in the years leading up his death.
Although calling Bright Star a biographical film does’t feel quite right. It is, indeed, based on the lives of two historical figures, but Campion is not nearly as interested in the fact of the matter -and certainly not on the story of Keats as a great poet- as she is in the ideas behind Keats’s poetry, and in making a movie that reflects those ideas. The result is a movie that – if you’ll pardon the cliche- feels like a poem. Or at least the best parts of the movie do.
The most impressive thing about Bright Star is that it doesn’t convey the experience of falling in love by reciting Keats’s poems, but through strictly visual mediums. The production and costume design by longtime Campion collaborator Janet Patterson make this a world of real people living real lives, and not just actors putting on corsets (which tends to be a problem with period pieces). And with the many authentic textures provided by Patterson, cinematographer Grieg Fraser, a virtuoso when it comes to using light, more than excels at the job of making this movie look beautiful.
He does such a good job, in fact, that this was probably the hardest “Best Shot” I had to pick in a while. Not only are there so many beautiful images in Bright Star, but there are so many beautiful images that also happen to be encapsulations of the universal aspects of falling in love. I hate to cheat, and I hate ties, but I think I can only do justice to Fraser and Campion’s work if I pick two shots this week.
Plus, my two picks kind of play off of each other. The first shot comes from a scene not too long after Keats has moved to the same house as Fanny’s family. He goes into his room, and knowing that Fanny’s room is on the other side, he playfully knocks on the wall. He puts his head against the wall, trying to be as close to Fanny as possible. On the other side of the wall, Fanny hears the knock, and runs across the room towards the wall. She knocks back, and presses her ear against the wall. She waits for Keats to respond, and we can see actress’ Abbie Cornish’s face go through the excruciating pain of having to be patient when you are in love.
The second shot occurs not long after Fanny and Keats share their first kiss. Here, we get the perfect visualization of Fanny’s newfound happiness. She sits on her bed like a teenager, and she closes her eyes as she lets the power of nature (sunlight and blowing wind) wash her body with the love she is feeling. Everything about this shot is beautiful. Fanny’s striped costume, Patterson’s interpretation of a of the Regency equivalent of a teenager’s bedroom, the flowing curtain, the light patterns on the wall, and of course, the feeling.