As Cool As A Fruitstand

…and maybe as strange. A movie blog.

Bright Star

Posted by Hedwig on October 29, 2009

Film_BrightStar-570The friend I went to see Bright Star with liked the movie, but mentioned she liked The Duchess better. The comparison is interesting: both movies, set less than half a century apart, are about women who express themselves mainly though clothing, and who cannot marry who they wish. It surprised me at the time that I enjoyed the Duchess quite a bit, but in my eyes, Bright Star is a much more interesting – if flawed – film.

Part of this is aesthetic: Campion repeats the marvelous trick she performed in the Piano, which is to make the world of the film both specifically of its time and tangible, real. There are period costumes, and they are beautiful, but you can see the stitches – you can imagine how stiff the cloth would feel against your skin. When Keats climbs a tree and rests on the branches, it’s a wonderful, poetic image, fit to inspire some typical romantic verses, but you can tell he isn’t floating, that the branches would be pricking his back, and that it’s not that pure and simple.

Still, how authentic the world feels is just one thing. More important is the authenticity of the character, and it’s here that this film distinguishes itself most. Keira Knightley in the Duchess is a somewhat anachronistic feminist prototype, at times astonishingly naive and incredibly ahead of the times depending of the needs of plot and allegory. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate female ass-kicking regardless of verisimilitude. But Fanny Brawne, in comparison, is such a fully realized character. Most importantly, while she is undoubtedly (and refreshingly) the main character in this movie, she’s hardly a hero. She’s stubborn, overly melodramatic, more than a little conceited. She thinks she has all the answers – she thinks she’s the first one to discover what it’s like to be in love. In other words: she’s believably 18, and how often do you see that?

I’m not a big fan of the romantic poets, to be honest. To be more precise, I like the poems well enough, but I have little patience for them. I prefer post-modern experimentation: poems that are not merely beautiful, but which surprise me. But it works in this film, and Campion’s tactic works: she doesn’t seem to mind that the audience will sometimes think Fanny and Keats a little silly, their emotions a bit exaggerated. She doesn’t mind, because she knows that the ending is heartbreaking enough even if we think they are overdoing it – it’s hard not to be touched by Fanny’s breakdown, hysterical as it is. In the meantime, she portrays the thrill of emerging love perfectly. She even gets kisses right! Their first kiss is not a Hollywoodian climax, standing in for the sex to be had later, but tentative, exploratory. She knows how fascinating someone’s face can become, how absorbing even the slightest touches.

She does, unfortunately, keep things pretty chaste. More in keeping, perhaps, with the sentiment of romantic poetry, all unfulfilled longing and sublimated desire. But it disappoints me to see a movie which, yet again, portrays the only “true” love as “pure”, with the boar Charles Brown (by the by, why isn’t Paul Scheider in, like, every movie? He should be) as a sharp contrast. It’s as if a love story cannot be suitable tragic if it is consummated…

Pillow’d upon my fair Love’s ripening breast
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest;

Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever,—or else swoon to death.

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3 Responses to “Bright Star”

  1. Fine review as always. But I am not of the opinion that there are any real flaws here. It’s a rapturous film, with a magnificent performance by Ms. Cornish, and it’s a deep-moving story of fleeting love and tragedy. I will be naming it the best film of 2009.

    Happy Holidays!

  2. Hedwig said

    Just read your review (I’ve been behind on my blog-reading), and it’s marvelous. Your love for the film really shines through! I have more reservations than you do, but I can definitely see that this is a film to fall in love with.

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