Reviews and notes
Mamoulian Award, Sydney Film Festival
Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Photography, AFI Awards
The inimitable decentred visual style that so distinguishes Sweetie
(1989) can be seen in the earlier Jane Campion film, A GIRL'S OWN STORY
. In both films, the cinematography of Sally Bongers seems to capture visually the very texture of uncertainty and insecurity which is a feature of Campion's narratives, most particularly through the techniques of framing and composition. The lighting, decor and cinematic codes (camera angle, distance and movement) are, in A GIRL'S OWN STORY
, perfectly attuned to the subject matter of the film which is about a young girl growing up in a dysfunctional family. This is a family which exudes repression... As a result, each family member inhabits her or his own private world. The domestic space which they occupy becomes a strange and alien place. The mother is virtually mute with depression, the father is in deep denial and the sisters are hostile and prickly...
Areas that Campion explores in Sweetie
are touched on almost as a dress rehearsal in A GIRL'S OWN STORY
. Subjects such as sibling incest, child abuse, clinical depression and obsessiveness are the staples of Campion's films. The family is represented as a site of moral danger and thwarted emotion; in A GIRL'S OWN STORY
, the atmosphere is conveyed through the motif of cold (absence of warmth), with heaters that are never switched on. Characters speak in non-sequiturs and desire is clearly a sin. The convent, to which a girl made pregnant by her brother while they were playing 'cats' retreats, is a cold, bleak and secret place; these are the consequences of a Christian morality based on the 'word-of-the-father' and the admonition "thou shalt not."
The girls' friendships are perhaps the only positive thing about the situation they find themselves in and there are some strange moments which are both moving and amusing. For example, in the opening sequence of the film, four girls (with tennis racquets for guitars) sing the Beatles' song 'I Should Have Known Better', so encapsulating, in one brilliant visual stroke, both the mood and period of the film. Later, two of the friends practise kissing, in a heterosexual role play, one playing the boy and wearing a George or Ringo paper mask, the other lying on the bed passively, playing the girl. The implicit critique here of gender roles and gender positioning within the nexus of the family is a central concern of Campion's and one that returns in her subsequent feature films.
- Jocelyn Robson & Beverley Zalcock, Girls' Own Stories: Australian and New Zealand Women's Films, London, 1997.
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