A Vision, or a Waking Dream? 


Bright Star
Directed by Jane Campion

Jane Campion has achieved a reputation for explicit eroticism—one need only think of the nearly bodice-ripping fervor of the Australian director's biggest international success, The Piano—and has thus largely lived or died by it, her last two features, 1999's Holy Smoke! and 2003's In the Cut, each respectively representing the liveliest and silliest extremes of her treatment of sexual desire. Bright Star, however, is something else. Like the film's pining John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish), Campion sublimates physical passion into metaphysical love to fashion a portrait of the poet and his muse in early 19th-century Hempstead that remains chaste yet charged with the tactile sensuality of youthful romance.

Opening with a close-up of a needle pulled through cloth, Bright Star captures the delicate silences and slow daily rhythms of pre-industrial England with a hushed intensity, evoking both the perceptivity of Keats and the torturous ardor of a relationship besieged by death. Not that Campion indulges in vanished-era fetishism: with its creaking drawing rooms and summer fetes painted in subtle and resplendent hues, Bright Star is unabashedly beautiful, but first and foremost an unsentimental ode to the painful bonds of love. Initially too poor to marry and eventually too sick to follow through on his short-lived engagement to the prospective seamstress, Keats' connection with Brawne nonetheless thrives as a series of intellectual and spiritual discoveries Campion renders transportive but transitory—and absolutely worthy of the voice-overed Keats classics like "Endymion" and "Ode to a Nightingale" that accompany her images.

Opens September 18

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