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Love and poetry 

Bright Star and Love & Savagery

Sometimes the screening gods are kind, serving up two films in a row with genuine parallels. The two I’m thinking of, they’re both period films, they both feature poets as the male lead characters. Both wrestle with impossible love. One asks us to believe perfect love can be mined in three days, the other lets it unfold over three years. It’s probably more an indication of the respective periods in which they’re set that the briefer affair is a little more carnal than the lengthier one.

Love & Savagery finds us in 1969 Ballyvaughan, on the rocky west coast of Ireland, a time and place of grizzled fishermen and perpetual pennywhistles down at the pub. Newfoundlander, poet and geologist Michael (Allan Hawco) is there to look at rocks, though swiftly becomes interested in local raven-haired barmaid Cathleen (Sarah Greene). Though they take a shine to each other, Cathleen’s bound for the nunnery, which, as you can imagine, makes for an obstacle to consummating their quickly evolving love. Also on the scene are the village’s highly protective menfolk, who don’t take kindly to some educated Newf distracting their fair Cathleen, so near to her betrothal with the almighty. John N. Smith (Dangerous Minds) directs a straightforward but moving story---adapted by Des Walsh from his own book---that feels as if it could have been made in 1969, it’s so comfortingly familiar. Timeless? Maybe. Visuals of Ireland’s green slopes and fractured stone never fail to disappoint though you’d better enjoy the music because you won’t escape it here. Look for Smith and Hawco to show for the Atlantic gala Friday night.

Another kind of poetic romance is Jane Campion’s Bright Star. It stars Ben Whishaw, an expert in channelling the sensitive artistic sort in his roles, from Perfume to Brideshead Revisited. Here he reaches an apex of frail creativity as John Keats, who I knew little about before strolling into the cinema. Romantic poet, died young. That’s about it. And that’s all you really need to know. Five minutes in I leaned over to my colleague Hillary Titley and admitted, “I already love this movie.”

Campion saw some success in the ‘90s with weepy period dramas such as The Piano and The Portrait of a Lady and here plays to her strengths. Bright Star a beautiful film illustrating the slow burn love between Keats and Hampstead fashion plate Fanny Brawne, played by the subtle Abbie Cornish. The delicious use of light in both the interior and exterior scenes is enthralling. I think the film knows that its leads’ emotional rawness sometimes crosses over to the melodramatic, but it allows us that knowledge without sacrificing the performers’ authenticity or a fraction of wit in the script. I was a blubbering puppy at the end of this one. Bring tissues to the Friday night screening.

Incidentally, in The Coast today you’ll find my story about Rob Stefaniuk’s Suck, and in it I mention that Jessica Paré will be in town next week for the premiere. I’ve since learned that joining her will be director/writer/actor/composer Stefaniuk and co-composer John Kastner. Paré’s other film, The Trotsky, closing the festival Saturday the 26th, will see her in attendance along with co-star Emily Hampshire and director Jacob Tierney.


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