Jane Campion has always been one of my favorite directors. Similar in style, but more effortless than Sally Potter and more accessible than Agnès Varda, Campion has hit another power chord of romantic film with Bright Star.
Lunging her audience into the middle of the lives of the film’s characters, it takes a little time, but we are soon hooked on the storyline and slowly developing love story of poet John Keats and his muse Fanny Brawne. Inspired by actual love letters they once shared, their romance is itself poetic and perfect. Yes, the film is riddled with the obviousness of it’s impending route to despair, but as much as Fanny longs to be with Keats we long for her dream to come true.
Campion infuses awesome visual tailoring to the story, employing non-stable camerawork and random cutaways to images of comfort, hope, pleasure and pain. The simple act of Fanny moving her bed against the wall that she shares with Keats (who also moves his bed against the same wall), is touching on levels that never need to be filled out by some expository scene in the film. You don’t need to know what the rest of her body is doing or what her facial expressions are when you are just watching how her fingers lightly run up against and touch the molded, white wall next to her bed. This is truly visual poetry.
With every film Campion’s craft grows stronger and this is a testament to her vision and creativity. One of the only directors I’ve seen who can make a brightly lit film feel so desperately dark, I didn’t even care that this plot has unfolded in multiple other romantic films before. It’s the way we are led through their less-than tumultuous (but still harrowing) time together; led right up to the final scene of the movie where Fanny cracks under the knowledge of her lover’s death. It was all I could do to wish she would find a way to move on, forget it – even killing herself I could have stomached more than watching her zombie-like in the blue woods reciting Keats’ poetry. As she falls slightly out of frame and screen cuts to black, title card fading in to read that Fanny spent most of her remaining days and nights aimlessly wandering the woods, I knew I’d never get over this story. And for once I never want to. Thank you, Jane.