Sweetie

Director: Jane Campion
Year: 1989
Country: Australia
Running time: 101 mins
Australia

Production co: Arenafilm Pty Ltd
Producer: John Maynard
Screenplay: Gerard Lee, Jane Campion. From an orginal idea by Jane Campion.
Photography: Sally Bongers
Editor: Veronika Haussler
Production designer: Peter Harris
Music: Martin Armiger

Cast
Sweetie: Genevieve Lemon
Kay: Karen Colston
Louis: Tom Lycos
Gordon: Jon Darling
Flo: Dorothy Barry
Bob: Michael Lake
Clayton: Andre Pataczek
Mrs Schneller: Paul Livingston
Meditation teacher: Charles Abbott
Little Sweetie: Emma Fowler

Festivals: Cannes (In Competition), New York, London 1989
Bold and brilliant though they were, nothing in New Zealander, Jane Campion’s short films or her telefeature, Two Friends, prepared us for the uncompromising audacity of her first big screen feature. It’s a family tragedy that’s shot through with black, neurotic comedy and in which we only gradually get to meet the family. When we set out, with the tremulous, uptight Kay, the movie might seem as doleful and emptied out as she is, except that while we’re seeing her we’re also seeing the world through her eyes, and it’s an alarmingly action-packed place. Every startlingly framed frame overflows with life, colour and bizarre, significant, threatening detail. Kay especially dreads trees. She dreams in terror of the subterranean advance of their roots, but even the patterns of the linoleum seem to overwhelm her. As we meet the rest of the family, beginning with her chronologically uninhibited sister, Sweetie, all the emotions, the conflicts and the pure sibling hatred that switched off Kay in the first place flood back into the picture – and the film gets fuller and deeper and richer as it goes. By the time it’s over you might want to watch it over again. Many Australians have been saying that this is “most definitely a New Zealand film”, and despite a lovely dreamlike outback dance sequence, it’s hard to argue. The world the film expresses is dark, precious, incestuous, inarticulate. These are not Australian characteristics, although the humour with which they’re regarded might be. What’s beyond question is that only in Australia could it ever have been possible for Campion to develop the powerful visual eloquence to make this exceptional and unshakeable account of stunted growth. — Bill Gosden