Rain – Video Recording Review

Steven Aoun

Christine Jeffs (w/d), NZ, 2002, 92 minutes, Adapted from the novel Rain by Kirsty Gunn, ACTORS: Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki, Sarah Peirse, Marton Csokas, Alistair Browning, Aaron Murphy. DVD EXTRAS INCLUDE: Production Notes, Promotional Reel and International Trailers

‘Mum, don’t stare.’ ‘I wasn’t’. Actually, mother and daughter have their eye on the same guy, and this exchange indicates why it’s inappropriate to describe Rain as a ‘coming of age’ drama. Another description you might have encountered is ‘loss of innocence’. Rain reminds us, however, that there might never have been an age of innocence. Life requires us to come to terms with one another’s hopes and expectations, and involves carrying around the guilt when not being able to measure up to them. Thirteen year-old Janey’s stern reproach–and mother Kate’s defensive denial–underlines the problem of what it might mean to ‘act your own age’.

And spare a thought for the hapless Dad–it would certainly be one more thought than his wife and daughter seem to give him. Neither wants to act out Ed’s notion of an idealized family unit, and indulge him as if he were a clueless little boy. And then there’s Jim–the man/child who has been left for Janey to mother as the family hangs onto its tenuous ties through him. The marriage is in a state of arrested development and the family is incapable of weathering the oncoming storm.

The family goes to their holiday house by the beach in New Zealand, 1972. According to the father (Browning), this home away from home offers the possibility of ‘paradise’. But there is no getting away from family problems when you take them with you–he is typically at the back of the house whilst his wife (Peirse) retreats into an alcoholic haze. The two children are left to their own devices–Janey (Fulford-Wierzbicki) is teaching Jim (Murphy) to swim in an ocean that offers adventure and escape. When day becomes night, the family get together in order to spend time with other holiday makers, partying into the next day, when they’ll spend their time apart again. It is the stranger with the boat (Csokas) who draws the family together and reveals its fault lines. Despite the fact that Janey finds fault in Kate’s flirting and drinking, she is intoxicated with the possibility of following her mother into his arms.

From the striking opening image onwards, Rain manages to evoke a sea of emotions. The film drifts into our consciousness, and gently carries us into the tumultuous emotional currents of its characters. Rain’s complex world is revealed through the simplest of details, where expressive images and in/actions speak louder than words. Jeff’s assured directorial debut effortlessly transcribes Gunn’s organic imagery and prose into something equally visual and fluid. The narrative explores the many hidden depths beneath the surface appearance of ‘childhood’ and ‘adulthood’–mother and daughter reflect one another’s desire for (a) lost innocence. It is difficult to know whether they are rivals desiring the same thing, or mirror images of each other reflecting distinct desires. The one seems to want to feel young and alive again whilst the other wants to be all grown up. Despite a palpable sense of foreboding, audiences will find themselves in the same boat as the men in the film: not sure what to expect from either of the central female characters. Fulford is particularly remarkable as the precocious Janey. She persuasively kisses a young suitor just to scare him off–and even invites him to lie down in her bedroom in order to cast aspersions on his manhood.

Peirse is so impressive as the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ mother that you’ll want to bend her over your knee in order to spank her. Honorable mention must go out to Browning–his sensitivity, hurt and incomprehension resonate with a quiet dignity in every scene. The only time Rain falters is towards the shocking end. Rain’s visual lyricism and restraint is eschewed in favor of song lyrics, judgmentally commenting on the action. Janey’s knowing voiceover suggests a ‘getting of wisdom’ when we are left to wonder whether she will follow the example of her mother and drown her sorrows in alcohol. A final post credit image endeavors to obscure a family tragedy. These cinematic pieces of flotsam and jetsam surely belong in a lesser film.

Steven Aoun is a doctoral research student in Critical Theory at Monash University, and Metro’s regular TV and DVD reviewer.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Australian Teachers of Media

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