by Walter Chaw
starring Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki, Sarah Peirse, Marton Csokas, Alistair Browning
screenplay by Christine Jeffs, based on the novel by Kirsty Gunn
directed by Christine Jeffs
Based on a Kirsty Gunn novel, Christine Jeffs's hyphenate debut Rain is a dulcet, haunting evocation of that moment of crisis in a young woman's life as she's poised on the precipice of sexual maturity. The film is golden and beautiful, edged in its understanding that a desire for sex almost always precedes an emotional or intellectual ability to cope with the fallout of the act itself. In honouring that concept, Rain makes no distinction between adults playing as children and children playing the grown-ups in scenes juxtaposed in ways whimsical and poignant. As much as it is a coming of age for a young woman, Rain is very much about the broader issue of power in gender politics as it defines family and relational dynamics.
13-year-old Janey (Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki) is the sister of little Jim (Aaron Murphy) and daughter of ineffectual cuckold Ed (Alistair Browning) and his boozer wife Kate (Sarah Peirse). Into their lives comes Cady (Marton Csokas), a drifter photographer who catches first Kate's eye, then Janey's. Set on the sublimely lovely Mahurangi Peninsula on the eastern coast of New Zealand, Rain demonstrates lauded commercial director Jeffs's flair for smooth visuals and arresting in-camera effects. Like Ridley Scott, another commercial-cum-feature film director, Jeffs betrays her affection for water as an exceptionally versatile vehicle carrying eroticism, transformation/baptism, and capricious femininity in its expansive symbolic capability. The shots of water in the appropriately named Rain are rapturous and the possibilities for academic profundities from a plumbing of the film's visual depths is almost matched by the frank beauty of the images themselves.
Beyond the native complexities of its visuals, Rain impresses with its canny narrative. The rare film shot in sequence, Jeffs's picture will go from the children adorning themselves with pictures of mature genitalia to Kate seducing Cady on his boat. Adults coyly dancing around one another on the beach and stealing kisses in a bathroom during a party ask to be compared against the actions of children in poses of imagined maturity and seriousness. When Kate has her picture taken by Cady, Janey in turn wishes hers to be taken--a testing of power coupled with a desire to usurp the mother in the family make-up. In symbol and structure, Rain is heavy with literary irony and an unusually satisfying film as a result of it.
With performances so good they approach unconscious (Fulford-Wierzbicki is a revelation) and direction assured, artistic, and lovely, the only area where Rain really falls short is in its self-awareness--moreover and more troubling, its self-satisfaction. Jeffs is at her best when she allows her poetic style to weave its own insistent undertow--and at her worst when mommy doesn't get ice cream and the same lawnmower footage is used to punctuate two ironically different kinds of languor. Rain is flawed, no question, but it is alive with bottled vim and melancholy, an Anne Sexton verse about the death of the child and the birth of the troubled woman come to life.