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Jane Campion, Where Have You Been?

Jane Campion, Where Have You Been?

In broken English, an international journalist asked filmmaker Jane Campion quite simply this morning, “Why do we have to wait so long for a Jane Campion film?”

Campion has only made a few feature films since winning the Palme d’Or for “The Piano” here in Cannes, sixteen years ago. Today, she returned with “Bright Star,” a lush look at a young Fanny Brawne and her exhilirating, tortured romance with acclaimed poet John Keats in the early 1800s.

“The real reason is that I have a daughter [and] I was beginning to wonder if she knew she had a mother,” Jane Campion said this morning in Cannes, “I was determined to have some time with her while she was young.” Pointing to a young woman standing beside the dais, she said, “Alice is my reason, she’s my best film yet.” Campion gave birth to her daughter the year that she won the Festival’s top prize.

Despite having made just three feature films since “The Piano” in 1993, Campion remains the only woman to win the Palme d’Or here in Cannes. Why is there still a frustrating dearth of internationally acclaimed female filmmakers?

“I would love to see more women directors, because they are half the population,” Campion said today, “And they gave birth to the whole world.” She continued, “I think women don’t grow up with the harsh world of criticism that men grow up with. We are more sensitively treated.”

A scene from Jane Campion’s “Bright Star.” Image courtesy of Cannes Film Festival.

“You have to develop a tough skin (to be a director) and it’s my suspicion that women aren’t used to that,” Campion offered. Concluding the thought and smiling, she said, “They must put on their coats of armour and get on with it, because we need them.”

Campion’s new film looks at the intense, secret romance that develops between next-door neighbors Brawne and Keats. The twenty-something writer wrote his love poem “Bright Star” for the teenaged fashion maven.

Set during a range of seasons, bright colors and fields of Spring flowers are contrasted with the stark white landscape of snowy winter, providing a striking backdrop for the burgeoning, at times melodramatic young love story in the beautifully executed “Bright Star.”

A word of warning from the filmmaker, however: Don’t call it a bio-pic.

“This is not a bio pic, it’s a story inspired by their own story, told from Fanny’s point of view and it’s a love story using the material and the letters,” Campion cautioned, rather emphatically. “I find the bio-pic frustrating because it doesn’t give you room to have the space and the details really, so I don’t think this is a bio-pic.”

“Bright Star” begins with an extreme close-up of the threading of a needle. Fanny Brawne was a student of fashion seen creating lavish costumes for herself and her family. “Almost all women sewed,” Campion noted this morning, “They sewed, and they waited.” So that was the filmmaker’s window into the story.

“There’s so many ways to tell the story and talk about Keats,” Camption noted, “This is just one way, it’s my inspiration. I tell it through Fanny and the sewing is a kind of meditative part of it.”

Abby Cornish, who plays Fanny Brawne in “Bright Star,” added, “The sewing is the thread of the film, from beginning to end.”

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