Sweetie (1989)

by | Nov 4, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Sweetie (1989)

Starring:  Genevieve Lemon, Karen Colston, Tom Lycos, Dorothy Barry, Jon Darling, Michael Lake
Studio:  Janus Films/ Criterion Collection
Video:  1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio:  DD 5.1
Extras:  Audio Commentary; Making of Sweetie (22 min); Short Films – An Exercise in Discipline: Peel (1982, Widescreen, 9 min), Passionless Moments (1983, Full Frame, B&W, 12 min), A Girl’s Own Story (1983, Full Frame, B&W, 27 min); Jane Campion: The Film School Years (19 min); Production Gallery; Trailer
Length:  99 minutes
Rating:  See review

Many of the discs released under the Criterion Collection moniker are some of the best films ever made and many of them are important from an historical point of view.  I’d put this film in the latter category.  The Australian film Sweetie is the debut feature of writer/director Jane Campion who is best known for the film The Piano with Holly Hunter and Sam Neill.  From a creative and technical standpoint Sweetie will be a film student’s dream.  There are constant examples of interesting composition, framing, use of color and set, camera movement and location, close-ups and editing, dream sequences, and quite a bit of symbolism.

The characters are dysfunctional and are constantly thrown into unusual situations that make the viewer aware of them on a consistent basis–i.e. there is a nagging question “why?”  A strong level of understanding can be achieved after listening to the extensive commentary included on the DVD as well as reading the included essay by Dana Polan in the accompanying booklet.  The depth of these sources helps to peel away the many layers of the film.  Much of the material is based upon real characters making viewing of the film again even stranger, disturbing, and shocking.

The story begins with Kay, a loner, who visits a tea reader to get a glimpse of her future.  The reading reveals that she is destined to be with a man with a question mark on his forehead.  As strange as it sounds, she soon meets him–the fiancé of her coworker.  Quirky characters abound throughout the film including Clayton, a child who tries to sell toy cars by yelling at the neighbors through the window–quite unsuccessfully and humorously I might add.  As if things weren’t strange enough in Kay’s relationship with Louis, enter Dawn, Kay’s sister and more commonly known as Sweetie–so named by their father.  Sweetie is an odd girl who exhibits many of the behaviors of a child.  She’s selfish, throws tantrums, has a child-like need for attention and getting her way, and acts out in ways that are not only dangerous to her self, but to others as well.

Sympathy for the characters in the film is difficult, with possibly Louis being the only one who is really to feel sorry for.  The other day I watched an interview with writer Arthur Laurents (The Way We Were, West Side Story [play], Rope, etc) talk about what his goal is for the audience.  That is…simply…a reaction.  There is no doubt that this film will elicit a reaction and although there is much to talk about cinematically, interest and character sympathy is also important (in my mind).  This is where Sweetie may fall short for some viewers.

— Brian Bloom

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