November 22, 2006
New Zealand filmmaker Jane Campion has had a fascinating career with a varied body of work including a period drama (The Piano), a literary adaptation (The Portrait of a Lady) and a crime thriller (In the Cut). A common trait among all of the films in her career is their provocative nature, especially concerning the volatile relationships between her characters and this was firmly established in her feature film debut, Sweetie (1989) which explores the turbulent relationship between two sisters.
Kay (Colston) is something of an outsider. At work, she doesn’t share her co-workers’ excitement over one of their own’s recent engagement but this is because she is having an affair with the engaged man – Louis (Lycos). Thirteen months later and they are living together. He plants a tree for her which is rather strange considering that at the beginning of the film she admits to having a fear of them. It is also continues a recurring visual motif throughout Sweetie of tree imagery. Campion does not adhere to a typical narrative structure as she injects abstract dream imagery as we see the world through Kay’s tree-obsessed, superstitious point-of-view.
Then, one night, Kay’s messed up sister Sweetie (Lemon) shows up unannounced and disrupts her life. Kay describes Sweetie as “a dark spirit” and hints at some condition that she is clearly not taking her medication for. Sweetie is the wild, outgoing free spirit to Kay’s repressive nature. Sweetie certainly exhibits odd behaviour, asking Louis out of the blue if he’s ever been licked all over or putting all of her sister’s plastic toy horses in her mouth.
The characters all act in very specific, idiosyncratic ways that are quite stylized in nature. Campion likes framing her characters so that their heads are at the bottom of the screen and to the left at the right. This symbolizes the awkwardness and alienation with the rest of the world.
There is an audio commentary by director Jane Campion, screenwriter Gerard Lee and director of photography Sally Bongers. The film was inspired by Campion’s relationship with Lee whom she met at film school. The meticulous compositions came from Campion and Bongers studies of still photography. Campion, at one point, cites David Lynch (his use of darkness juxtaposed with beauty) and Jim Jarmusch (the intimacy of his films) as early cinematic influences. They touch upon the creative freedom they enjoyed on this movie – their producer didn’t try to control them or be negative. This is a relaxed track as all three seem to be good friends by the way they laugh and joke with each other.
“Making Sweetie” reunites Colston and Lemon who talk about their first impressions of reading the screenplay. They talk about how they got the roles and instantly bonded. Both have sisters and drew on their own experiences for the roles. Colston and Lemon praise the predominantly female crew with making them feel comfortable and secure while making the film. Best of all, they talk about their approaches to acting without pretension.
“Short Films” features three shorts that showcase Campion’s emerging style. “An Exercise in Discipline: Peel” (1982) is about a dysfunctional family on a road trip. “Passionless Moments” (1983) is a black and white tale of a man practicing yoga in his apartment and we are introduced to several other vignettes that are narrated omnisciently. “A Girl’s Own Story” (1983) is a playful story of a young school girl obsessed with the Beatles and her deeply dysfunctional family.
“Jane Campion: The Film School Years” is an interview with the director in 1989 when she had three short films under belt. She enrolled in film school at 26. Campion talks about her experiences and how she wanted to push herself and prove that she could make a go of it. She found the school to be very conservative.
Also included is a “Production Gallery” of behind-the-scenes stills and a trailer.