Oscar History

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'Bright Star' and Love's Cool Breeze

Kurt here from Your Movie Buddy, ready to spread a little love on Valentine's Day.

The dreamy feeling one gets while watching Jane Campion's Bright Star is encapsulated in two successive images in the film, both of which are included at the end of this post. But WAIT!! Don't scroll down yet!! There's still plenty to say about this gorgeous telling of the romance between poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw) and poet's muse Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish). It's by far 2009's finest love story and by leaps its most beautiful movie.

I haven't exactly chosen a Valentine's Day love scene – as per Nathaniel's instructions to his contributors – though I could've easily devoted a few hundred words to the tender, sexless sex scene that caps the lovers' fleeting fling (just as I could have devoted a few thousand to the absurdity of Cornish's near-universal snubbing in the '09 awards race). What I picked is the exquisite sequence that shows the spark of the pair's courtship.

It begins with a frozen-in-time tableau that, among other things, brings to life Seurat's Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte

It's the morning after a ballroom event, where Fanny first introduced Keats to the extents of both her fashion sense and her pseudo-feminist pluck. Fanny's young sister, Toots (Edie Martin), wants to play on the swing, which is just as well, since Fanny and Keats have plans of their own. They stroll along a planked path that bisects an ocean of reeds, and Campion all but lets you feel the plants brush across your cheek. Each lover catches the other catching a glimpse in that playful way that anyone who's ever been crush-struck can recognize.

They set down on a grassy patch in the woods, where Keats tells Fanny of a dream he had the night before in which his lips were attached to those of a beautiful figure. “Were they my lips?” Fanny asks with characteristic forwardness. And with that, we ease into the couple's first kiss, which Campion deftly delays for maximum effect.

Of course, what Campion does throughout Bright Star is create her own kind of poetry. She renders a timeless romance with lyrical beauty, not to mention visually translate the oft-unfilmable writer's process with remarkable, graceful success. Her movie is across-the-board romantic, giving a great deal of weight to an under-documented love story, using the classically sexy device of love letters as vessels of longing and joy, and enveloping you in the uncluttered comfort of nature.

The first kiss is followed by three wondrous, indelible shots, in which Fanny and Keats share their newfound glee in love, then revel in it individuallly. Playful and unbroken, the first sees them freeze in place and play it cool (three times) as Toots glances back to catch them mid-smooch.

The second, set in Fanny's bedroom, and the third, atop a flowery tree, illustrate the very sensation this whole movie creates – that of a smooth breeze that bowls you over...

...and leaves you in bliss.

Let these stills settle in, then tell me: were you as taken with Bright Star as I was?

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Reader Comments (12)

YES YES YES YES I was. I was so enamored of Bright Star. My friends were confused when I insisted that this film was one of the most erotic I'd ever seen -- one started naming all these steamier films, and I agreed that many of them were certainly well-done and arousing, but THIS MOVIE. THIS one where they never consummate that love, where all the sex is confined to the glances and kiss and smiles that you showed just now, THAT'S sexy. Because you feel it in every frame, in every glance, the filmmakers and the actors conspiring together to get you all hot and bothered, even while keeping everyone's ankles and necks under wraps. I didn't know what to watch tonight for V-Day, but now I think I've got it. Thank you, great post!

February 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterWalter

Kurt, great post - these stills are bringing back SUCH warm memories of that film. it's the sort of film that i think has sunk into me deeper than I really realized at the time.

Abby Cornish was really incredible, an entirely indelible performance. In hindsight, I can't understand why the awards bodies didn't get more behind her - and the film as a whole (including cinematography, costume and art design, etc). But they go ape-shit over the King's Speech this year? Eh?

February 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJanice

Janice -- yeah, it's bewildering.

Walter -- i know! I remember Sasha Stone telling me at the Symposium that the Oscars didn't go for it because it wasn't romantic enough. you have to feel the passion of the romance. and i'm scratching my head wondering how people couldn't feel this one.

February 14, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Glad this is bringing people back to what they felt when they watched it. Such a great title to grab stills from...

February 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKurtis O

Kurt, will you be my Valentine? ;) I love this film, one of my top two of 2009. It just feels so alive. I also correctly guessed the two stills you'd place at the end of the post-- those shots are magical.

The viewing public needs some more Edie Martin in their lives.

February 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

god yes. it's such a personal movie that for me, i actually cringe whenever i see it brought up on public forums (like now) because it's like "oh no! What are they going to say about it?" like it was my own baby or something. I just have a really close connection with this movie, having been pretty obsessed with it at the time of its release.

i do have major issues with the chemistry though. the kissing is just....not realistic. and the atmosphere is occasionally stilted and its not my favorite whishaw performance, but god, i will still cherish my first viewing experience of this movie. I was smiling and crying at the same time.

February 14, 2011 | Unregistered Commentercaroline

loved this movie. thanks for the write up. reminds me i need to own it.

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrichard

What I loved most about this was how Fanny's outfits played an integral part of the film, bringing out her unique beauty in a way that made her believable as John Keats's muse. It wasn't like costumes as window dressing or adding to the overall ambiance, if they weren't what they were, this film wouldn't have worked. One of my favorites of 2009.

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Bright Star was all about Paul Schneider's marvelous supporting performance and not about the too modern miscast Abiie Cornish.

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered Commentermark g

Adored this film and still am saddenned so few have seen it. Nice piece on how wonderful the picture is and how its a great Valentine's Day choice.

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

is it bad to admit I sob during the movie? I didn't calm down until the end of the movie......
It's amazing something so beautiful and transcendent is being ignored last year.....I'm still very cross!

February 15, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMarshall1

Matt -- that is so true. Just one of the reasons it should have taken costume design with ease.

Marshall1 -- yup. i still have no idea what people's problem was with it. i mean, not even a cinematography nomination?

February 16, 2011 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R
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