CANNES 2009: BRIGHT STAR . . . OR NOT?
By Jimmy Thomson in Cannes:
The movie “luvvies” adore her but opinions on Jane Campion’s new film Bright
Star are seriously divided at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, with even fellow
screen professionals hopping in with acid comments.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the Jane Campion movie has just ended,” intoned Usual
Suspects star Kevin Pollak at 11 am the morning after Bright Star’s gala
performance. “Correction, the Jane Campion movie is still running,” he later
told a press conference for his new film Middle Men. “John Keats is not dead
Amid glowing if not gushing praise, it was one of many disparaging reactions to
Campion’s movie about the ill-starred love affair between 19th Century romantic
poet John Keats and his next door neighbour, with many detractors claiming the
film was self-indulgent, if visually sumptuous, and slow.
The first signs of discontent came at the early morning Press screening of
Bright Star. As the final scene faded to black, the obligatory applause was
muted although Campion’s screen credit was more warmly received – suggesting
that the Cannes audience love her but not necessarily her latest work.
"beautiful cinematography... slow pace"
In a straw poll immediately after the screening, some praised its beautiful
cinematography and stunning scenes set in English countryside around London;
others bemoaned its slow pace and “insubstantial” story.
“I hadn’t realised Keats was actually bored to death,” said Harry from Austria.
“It was yet more style over substance,” said cinephile Jessica from England.
“It’s not good enough for Jane Campion to stop everything so we can look at one
of her gorgeously lit scenes,” said an American critic. “She still has to tell a
That said, there were just as many others who loved it: “It looked fabulous,”
said film fan Marguerita from Italy and another said it was “sublime”. They are
in good company. The Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw says this may be the
best movie of Campion’s career.
Almost everyone agreed, however, that Abbie Cornish (Somersault, Candy) was
outstanding in the role of poet John Keats’ lover Fanny and Britain’s Ben
Whishaw (Perfume) acquitted himself well enough as the poet.
"a serious contender"
Criticism aside, Bright Star is a serious contender for the Palme d’Or which
Campion won 16 years ago (and is still the only female director to do so) but
that may be because of a lack of serious challengers. The Disney 3D animation,
Up, is not in competition although Fish Tank, a modest UK dysfunctional family
film, is creating a real buzz as is Thirst, a Korean vampire film, Quentin
Tarantino’s ultra-violent Inglourious Basterds and China’s Spring Fever.
Australian journalists were denied access to interviews with Campion but at a
press conference after the film she admitted she’s nervous about the reaction to
her latest work. “Last night, when it got past midnight and I went to check the
print, I must say I felt butterflies,” she said in Cannes. “I was really excited
She said she’d stumbled across the story of Keats and Fanny and was captivated
by their romance, brought to life in his poetry and letters. “The history of
these two characters so caught me unawares, with a story so enchanting and so
painful, I found it had endless fascination,” she said.
With the movie being released around the world later this year, only time will
tell whether film fans will be quite so beguiled. Bright Star is running second
in the Screen magazine unofficial critics poll (with an average of 3.3 out of
four) behind the movie A Prophet (3.4), mainly thanks to one critic who gave
Bright Star one star when all the others gave three or four.
Published May 19, 2009
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Abbie Cornish in Bright Star
POSTCARD FROM CANNES - May 19, 2009
CANNES 09 WINNERS
(Photo by Jimmy Thomson)