Rain

MED231 Australian Cinema

Lydia Brisbout

22/04/06

Critical Review and Bibliography

Part 1; Film Information and Bibliography

 

Principal Credits and Cast:

Based on the novel ‘Rain’ by Kirsty Gunn, Screenplay by Christine Jeffs.

Directed by Christine Jeffs

Producer:                                     Philippa Campbell
Executive Producer:                         Robin Scholes
Associate Producer:                         John Toon
Cinematographer:                         John Toon
Film Editor:                                     Paul Maxwell
Sound:                                     David Madigan
Art Director:                                     Kirsty Clayton
Costume Design:                         Kirsty Cameron
Casting:                                     Diana Rowan
Production Company/s:             Rose Road and Communicado
Sales Agent:                                     New Zealand Film Commission

Original Music by Neil Finn and Edmund McWilliams

Running time: 88 minutes

Cast:

Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki-            Janey
Sarah Peirse-                                    Kate
Marton Csokas-                        Cady
Alistair Browning-                        Ed
Aaron Murphy-                        Jim
David Taylor-                                    Sam
Chris Sherwood-                        Ron
Claire Dougan-                        Joy
Alison Routledge-                        Heather
Pino Scopas-                                    Pino
Ross Harper-                                    Partygoer #1
Jane Irwin-                                    Partygoer #2
Tom Evans-                                    Partygoer #3
Andi Revelev-                                    Partygoer #4
Lu Rathe-                                    Partygoer #5

 

Release Dates:

New Zealand:  October 2001                                                Gross Box Office: NZ$645,000
Australia: October 3, 2002 (Sydney/Melbourne)           
United States:            28 April 2002                                                Gross Box Office: US$453,517

Rain was screened at a number of international film festivals, including the Cannes, Venice, Sundance and the Commonwealth Film Festivals.

Rain was licensed to 26 countries, including France, Italy, Canada, United Kingdom, Belgium, Sweden, USA, Argentina, Israel, Hungary, Germany and Switzerland.

Awards:

Asia-Pacific Film Festival (2002); Special Jury Award (Christine Jeffs)

Fantasporto (2002); Directors’ Week Award for Best Actress (Sarah Peirse)

Flanders International Film Festival; (2001); Nominated for the Golden Spur Award (Christine Jeffs).

New Zealand Film and Television Awards (2001); Best Actress (Sarah Peirse), Best Juvenile Performer (Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki), Best Supporting Actor (Alistair Browning).

Satellite Awards (2003); Nominated for the Golden Satellite Award (Best Motion Picture, Foreign Language).

Bibliography of Reviews and Interviews:

As this film was released a few years ago, a number of reviews are no longer available. However, some reviews are still accessible and those listed below include reviews from other countries.

Australian Reviews;

-            Christine Jeffs’ debut film has rightly attracted attention as a cinematic work of great subtlety and visual power. The film’s constant mood of melancholy and its unhurried narrative are masterfully controlled. But … in trying to capture the novel’s deeper intimate resonances, the film has – ironically - distanced us from the characters.
We aren’t given enough insight into the adults to make them tangible nor to speculate on their real feelings. But I don’t mean to sound too negative: the film is an achievement in many ways, and heralds a fine new talent.
Andrew L. Urban; Urban Cinephile,

-            Christine Jeffs’ adaptation of Rain is as cinematic as it is emotionally dense, with an underlying sense of awakening and discovery. The music too (from Neil Finn) is hypnotically languid, affecting us by its tranquil simplicity. The characters are beautifully developed, although even at 92 minutes, the film lags a little. Perhaps the point of view is not always totally convincing, and some events lack credibility.
Jeffs has created a great sense of place with plenty of texture and mood, emphasising tension in relationships, dissatisfied yearnings and dreams.
Louise Keller; Urban Cinephile. Available at: http://www.urbancinefile.com.au/home/view.asp?a=6601&s=Reviews.

-            Set in a '70s beachside cottage, where neglected children behave like adults and neglectful adults behave like children, Rain could be New Zealand's answer to The Ice Storm, another moral drama about a family that buckles under the decaying values of the previous decade. But while Jeffs has a wonderful feeling for the sights and sounds of summer… she treats her characters with a heavy hand.
Though she possesses an impeccable eye for the sun-dappled beauty of the landscape and the body, Jeffs also has a weakness for her own poetic imagery, pausing at times for slow-motion interludes and a few occasional shots in black and white. As a result, Rain lays so much portent on every scene that it becomes ungenerous and morally forbidding.
Scott Tobias, The Onion AV Club, Available at: http://www.avclub.com/content/node/5903

 

International Reviews;

-            “This shrewdly intelligent and compassionate picture from New Zealand director Christine Jeffs…holds your attention very effectively indeed… it expertly conveys a sense of time and place, and an oppressive, emotionally charged atmosphere. There is something impressive about the way Jeffs finds her unhurried way inside a mood and a moment. “
Peter Bradshaw; The Guardian, (UK), Available at http://film.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/Critic_Review/Guardian_review/0,,985553,00.html

-            Rain… is a haunting and often extremely uncomfortable evocation of the horrors of adolescence. Set amid the permanently hung-over haze of 1972, Rain follows the confused sexual awakening of 13-year-old Janey, who both loathes and envies her mother's dalliances with photographer Cady.
Shot with skin-prickling, dream-like clarity by cinematographer John Toon, this (film) boasts flashes of Bressonian beauty which thankfully outweigh the almost exploitatively lingered-upon final act of tragedy. On this evidence, Jeffs is a talent to watch.
            Mark Kermode; The Observer (UK), Available at;
http://film.guardian.co.uk/News_Story/Critic_Review/Observer_review/0,,988314,00.html

 

  1. "Rain" is far from the first female coming-of-age movie, but it's one of the most vivid. Adapting Kirsty Gunn's novel, writer and director Christine Jeffs transports us to a specific place and moment: New Zealand's North Island, 1972, as a girl bears witness to the disintegration of her parents' marriage and the end of her childhood.

"Rain" is at its best when it's making casual observations…It becomes more problematic when it uses its narrative to make big points…Still, in such a memory piece as "Rain," the plot points eventually fade. What lingers are the unsettling feelings, inexplicably potent images and realization that some of life's key crossroads are visible only in the rearview mirror.
Mark Caro: The Chicago Tribute (US), Available at:
http://metromix.chicagotribune.com/movies/mmx-16761_lgcy,0,7775447.story

  1. Beware of movies that are all glancing, naturalistic atmosphere -- they can end up hitting you over the head with their ominous yet vague serenity…. The movie is Janey's tale, and as it moves from the drizzly to the overly stormy, Rain freights a young girl's self-destructive eagerness to lose her virginity with so much danger and even horror that it's as if the events were trying to make up for the film's previous lack of drama.

Owen Gleiberman; Entertainment Weekly (US), Available at:
http://www.ew.com/ew/article/review/movie/0,6115,238148~1~~rain,00.html

 

Interviews;

I was able to find three interviews with Christine Jeffs on the internet. They are available at;

- Indiewire; http://www.indiewire.com/people/int_Jeffs_Christine_020423.html
- Movie pie; http://www.moviepie.com/rain_jeffs.html
- About Movies; http://movies.about.com/library/weekly/aa061402a.htm.

 

Online presence/ Web literature:

As Rain is a small, low budget film, there are not many sites dedicated to the film. Many of the reviews above and all the interviews listed were sourced from the internet. In addition to this information about Rain is available at the following sites;

The New Zealand Film Commission; http://www.nzfilm.co.nz/film_catalogue/features/feature_film_catalogue/Rain_102.aspx

The Internet Movie database (IMDb);
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0287645/.

Additional sites belonging to Christine Jeff’s ‘The Girl Production Company;’ and the dedicated film site; http://www.rainthemovie.com. were supposed to be available, but were under construction at the time of this bibliography.

 

Part 2; Critical Review

 

Rain is the debut feature from writer/director Christine Jeffs, and was based on the novel of the same name by Kirsty Gunn. Rain is a small scale, low budget New Zealand film which tells the story of 13 year old Janey’s transition from youthful introversion to a more adult understanding of the complexity of people and relationships. Rain is set in 1972, when the freedom of the 60’s youth is being replaced by middle age and associated commitments. The story takes place at the Janey’s family beach house and, while her parents struggle with their lives and marriage, Janey struggles with dawning adolescence. The film deals with the issues of familial relationships, infidelity, negotiation of female sexuality and associated guilt. Rain establishes a strong atmosphere of melancholy and regret as each character is forced to come to terms with changes in themselves and their lives. The film accurately recalls the haziness of lazy summers, achieved in part through beautiful cinematography by John Toon and an emotive soundtrack by Neil Finn and Edmund McWilliams. Rain is an excellent example of the modest scale, character driven and family focussed dramas that are a strength of the Australian/New Zealand film industry.

Rain primarily focuses on the relationship between Janey (Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki) and her mother Kate (Sarah Peirse), as Janey enters adolescence and begins to assert her independence and re-negotiate the power balance between herself and her mother. This is reflected in the scene in which mother and daughter stand side by side, reflected in the mirror, in which Kate remarks that Janey ‘has her whole life ahead of her’. In contrast Kate’s youth is fading, and her freedom is curtailed by her husband and two children. Kate appears bored by her family, and is certainly bored by life at the beach house, except for the drunken parties she hosts in the evenings. She drinks seemingly constantly throughout the day, leaving Janey to take care of her younger brother Jim (Aaron Murphy). As Janey becomes more aware of herself and the people around her, she also becomes aware of her mothers affair with photographer Cady (Marton Csokas).  Janey’s introduction into the adult world of alcohol, cigarettes and sex/uality through her mother parties sparks her curiosity about both her mother’s powers of seduction as well as her own. As Kate and Janey become immersed in their own lives, Janey's father Ed (Alistair Browning) is left to drink alone, while Jim entertains himself. It is only after Janey has instigated a sexual affair with Cady and, in her absence, that Jim has drowned does Kate emerge from her drunken haze to be confronted by the damaged remains of her family.

This film deals with themes associated with coming of age, family melodrama as well as ‘woman’s’ films. It is particularly interesting to consider this film as an example of the latter genre and within the framework of similar Australian films. Rain clearly focuses primarily on the female characters within the story. The male characters in the film are more peripheral to plot, their significance due mainly to their relationship to the female characters. Even the character of Cady merely exposes pre-existing tensions between mother and daughter. Arguably, Janey’s curiosity about Cady can be seen to be (at least in part) a result of her curiosity about and desire to understand her mother and her mother’s behaviour, than it is about her desire for Cady himself. Rain takes its place in a strong tradition of Australian films which focus on family relationships, particularly those between women in a family, including High Tide and Little Fish. The popularity of these types of stories among Australian cinema may well be the result of the conditions of Australian film production, with “low budgets and small casts…tending to result in human interest stories focussing on individuals and families” (Gillard, 2006) Such films are valuable in reflecting and constructing the culture and lifestyle of a nation. Rain creates a strong sense of nationality, dealing with the everyday life of ‘middle’ Australians. Long summer holidays spent lazing in the backyard and by the beach, are (or were) a particularly Australian way of life. Rain is particularly valuable as it provides insight into constructions of women, femininity and female sexuality within Australian culture. Women portrayed in Australian film are rarely the glossy and glamorous constructions one usually sees in Hollywood film. Australian films usually focus on portraying ‘average’ citizens, frequently resulting in a more realistic depiction of women and men. This can be seen in the construction of Kate’s character- she is an attractive and sexually desirable woman, but is accessible by her realistic portrayal. Her lighting and makeup do not conceal her freckles, frown lines and other flaws, nor do her costumes glamorise her character; she looks nice, but not too nice.

One of the strengths of Rain is the accessible representation of women it constructs through Janey and Kate, and its insightful depiction of the complex relationship between them. Kate is a disillusioned and dissatisfied mother of two who is coming to terms with her fading youth. Sarah Peirse excellently portrays this character who is recklessly seeking distraction from her despair through a romantic affair. Kate is no idealised image of a woman; she is unhappy, frequently hungover and struggling to cope with her life, making mistakes as she does so. Her relationship with Janey is poor, with Kate’s repeated failures as a mother and as a woman being witnessed and criticised by her daughter. Rather than helping her daughter through a difficult time in her life and providing security and guidance, Kate’s behaviour destroys the security of the family structure that Janey seeks, and encourages Janey to explore her own sexuality with the same recklessness with which her mother engages in her affair. Janey’s transition from child to adolescent is reflected in the opening sequence in which she floats alone in the ocean, her youth undisturbed by outside complications. As the film progresses her idyll is shattered by her dawning awareness that the world is not as she perceived it as a child. Her parents’ relationship is not the solid structure it seemed, nor are her parents the people she thought they were. This is revealed when she demands on Cady’s boat that her mother “be happy”. Janey is aware that all is not as it should be, but can do little more than protest. Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki’s wonderfully natural performance traces Janey’s emotional dislocation as her youthful understanding of the world, and of her family crumbles. With this Janey is cast adrift, to make do as best she can as she enters the adult world.

The Australian film industry has been a training ground for a number of excellent women directors, including Jane Campion and Gillian Armstrong, who have contributed greatly to the diversity of representations of women in Australian and international cinema. Jeffs comes from commercial direction, and co-founded a production company ‘The Girl Film Company’ in New Zealand. After making a successful short film Stroke in 1993 she was able to receive backing to make Rain, her debut feature. While Jeffs proves highly adept at creating interesting and believable female characters and an evocative atmosphere, her script ultimately falls back upon stereotypical and formulaic fates for her female characters. In this sense Jeffs seems to be more interested in manipulating her characters in order to pass judgement upon and subsequently punish them, rather than really engaging with the characters and their circumstances. This is most apparent at the end of the film when, after having established the leisurely pace of the film, Jeffs deals a concurrent double blow to her women; Janey’s curiosity leads her out of her depth and she instigates sex with Cady and, due to Janey’s neglect, Jim drowns in the ocean. The film directly attributes responsibility of Jim’s death to Kate and Janey’s self involvement, reiterating the (previously common) theme that women who step outside what are deemed to be their sexual roles in society, or who act upon their desires must be punished. In Rain the punishment of these women seems far in excess of their guilt.

Rain takes place from Janey’s point of view and it with her character that the audience is encouraged to sympathise. However, as is central to the plot, the audience is also positioned to view Janey in an objectified sense as young woman capable of being sexually desired. Women in film are regularly objectified in such a way with the ‘gaze’ of the camera characterised as voyeuristic and fetishistic, its subject male and its object female (Doane 1997: pg 2). Jeffs does an excellent job of balancing elements of identification with and objectification of her female characters. Rather than denying their femininity and sexuality, Jeffs uses the film to analyse the ways in which these two ways of perceiving a character interact, and the audience comes to accept Janey’s emerging sexuality and how this affects her relationships with those around her (particularly her mother and Cady). The sexuality of a 13 year old girl is a difficult subject to deal with and Jeffs both confronts and confides in her audience, who can only watch with great regret as Janey’s curiosity leaves her vulnerable to an adult’s desire. Kate is also cast as an object of desire, but one with feet of clay. Her flaws make her accessible to the audience, who understand both her desire for Cady and her motivations for beginning an affair, as well as her relationship, and conflicts with Janey. One of the important issues within the film is that Janey’s sexuality will forever change her understanding of relationships, sexual or otherwise. The finality of her becoming sexually aware and active is emphasised and, when she loses her virginity, this is the very literal end of her childhood; Jim drowns and her parents split up. The rapid sequence of events at the end of the film, due to Janey’s actions, is in direct contrast to the previously leisurely pace of the film.

Rain was generally well received both within Australia/New Zealand and internationally and, as can be seen above, won a number of awards at various film festivals. Rain is, both in its scale and its content, the type of film generally produced by and associated with the Australian film industry. These films present family life of ‘middle’ Australians, often set in particularly Australian settings such as the bush (Walkabout) the beach (Rain) or odd small towns (Alice). Rain is a character driven drama set on the Mahurangi Peninsula in New Zealand.  The setting of the film is central to both the atmosphere and the plot of the film. Rather than providing an escape from everyday issues and conflicts, life at beach house, living in close proximity to each other and with too much spare time, aggravates pre-existing conflicts. The sense of danger offered by the risky actions of Kate and Janey are reflected in the setting, including the changeable tide and the blazing sky.

The success of low budget Australian, character driven, female focussed films is well established, from films such as Heavenly Creatures, Muriel’s Wedding, The Piano, Somersault and Little FishRain follows in this tradition, with the film receiving support at film festivals and then securing distribution deals in various countries, rather than securing distribution deals prior to release or relying on expensive marketing campaigns.  The film ran for six months in New Zealand, and was also successful in Australia, enjoying three sell out screenings at the Melbourne Film Festival. Rain was financed by the New Zealand Film Commission, but specific budget figures were not available. In my opinion Rain is an excellent example of what the Australian and New Zealand film industries have to offer, and prove that working with low budgets in no way compromises the quality of a production. Indeed, due to the less commercial nature of the Australian Film industry, in some ways it is an excellent training ground in which directors and writers can gain experience before working on larger scale productions. Rain’s international success has enabled Jeffs to do this; in 2003 Jeffs directed the Sylvia Plath - Ted Hughes biopic Sylvia, starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig. This film also focussed on ‘woman’s’ themes of infidelity and female identity. Rain is an excellent film, and contributes valuably to the representation of women in Australian cinema, and the reputation of the Australian/New Zealand film industries.

 

Bibliography

 

Doane, Mary Ann, 1987, 'Remembering women: psychical and historical constructions in film theory', Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media and Culture, 1, 2: 3-14.

Gillard, Garry 2007, Ten Types of Australian Film, Murdoch University, Perth.

Swanson, Gillian 1991, 'Building the feminine: feminist film theory and female spectatorship', Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture, 4, 2.