Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review: SWEETIE
Over the past few years, thanks to films like RED HILL and THE SQUARE, the film world has seen a return to form with regards to the types, quantity, and quality of films coming from down under. The world of Australian cinema has seen various renaissances, becoming one of the most fertile grounds for young, up-and-coming filmmakers outside of the States.
However, the modern state of Australian cinema owes more than a tiny debt to a beloved film, the debut of well-respected filmmaker, Jane Campion. Entitled SWEETIE, the film, already a member of the illustrious Criterion Collection, has just seen a re-release thanks to the team behind the mighty “C,” and while it may seem like an odd choice (particularly when there are seemingly other, “more worthy” films waiting in the wings amongst the 550+ films the Collection holds), it’s quite a wonderful upgrade.
Following the story of a pair of sisters and their relatively toxic relationship, SWEETIE chronicles a superstitious young woman, Kay, and her polar opposite, her off-the -wall, wannabe musician sister Sweetie, and their relationship together. Looking at how, no matter who you are, we inherently attempt to conceal or in a way shun the roots that tie us to our past, SWEETIE is a wonderfully poignant debut feature from one of today’s most talented filmmakers.
Campion, who would later go on to direct the equally wonderful AN ANGEL AT MY TABLE and the gorgeously poetic BRIGHT STAR, is on fire here in her debut. There is such vivid imagery here, whether it be a series of fever dream like quick cuts or the placement of things; characters or otherwise, within a given frame, the style here is both experimental and seemingly assured within that experiment. Gorgeous cinematography makes each frame burst with this late ‘80s-early ‘90s style, both dating the film, as well as making it instantly recognizable and singular, in the best possible way.
The film stars Karen Colston (in her first feature role, she would team back up with Campion in her masterpiece, THE PIANO) and Genevieve Lemon (also a star in THE PIANO), both of whom are absolutely top notch. Karen stars as Kay, and gives the character an immense relatability despite being a somewhat cold character. Simply trying to reject her roots, particularly her cartoonishly obnoxious sister, there is a lot of truth behind both this character, and her relationship with Tom Lycos’ Louis, her main squeeze. In the role of Dawn, aka “Sweetie,” is Lemon, who is absolutely a joy to watch her. She’s in-your-face rude, literally in one instance, and is utterly irresistible. She exudes a sense of energy that is paired with this odd sense longing and loneliness, that makes this a much more tragic character than a comedic figure.
The film as a whole does have a few cold moments, and while the actual ending works really well, many may find the film a tad bit overlong. But despite a few moments that don’t quite hit the mark, this is not only a genuinely great film, but it’s also a wonderful release.
As far as supplements go, the film is relatively stacked. The best, or at least most insightful, feature here is the 22-minute long interview between Lemon and Colston, entitled Making Sweetie. The film was a production that was full of females in major roles, ranging from the director to operating positions, and it’s interesting to hear these now experienced actresses discuss what was ostensibly their first acting gigs, and their relation to the fellow rookie, Campion.
Three short films directed by Campion also make their way here, with the most interesting being the wonderfully bizarre A GIRL’S OWN STORY. There are brief instances where you get so much insight as to the style of Campion and where she was at that stage in her career, that it’s a wonderful little short. AN EXERCISE IN DISCIPLINE: PEEL and PASSIONLESS MOMENTS are also given on this disc. Campion also has an interview with critic Peter Thompson that is massively insightful, and for any fan of commentaries, she also has one here where she is joined by cinematographer Sally Bongers and writer Gerard Lee.
Overall, while this film may not be for everyone, this is one that I wholly recommend to any fan of massively engaging, and ultimately thought-provoking, pieces of cinema from a truly visionary eye. Campion’s SWEETIE is a startling look at familial ties, sex with regards to relationships, and the relationship between two siblings looking to be loved. You’ll love this thing to pieces, however.