dir : Christine Jeffs
scr : Jeffs, based on novel by Kirsty Gunn
cin : John Toon
edi : Paul Maxwell
mus : Neil Finn
acr : Alicia Fulford-Wiezbicki, Sarah Peirse, Marton Csokas, Alistair Browning, Aaron Murphy
mins : 92

Well-observed, strikingly photographed and powerfully performed, Rain manages to find fresh new angles on what’s essentially over-familiar coming-of-age material. 13-year-old Janey (Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki) is holidaying on the picturesque Kiwi coast with her parents Kate (Sara Peirse) and Ed (Alistair Browning) and younger brother Jim (Aaron Murphy). Kate and Ed are drifting apart, a process hastened by the arrival on the scene of charismatic photographer/fisherman Cady (Marton Csokas), who exerts a strong appeal to both mother and daughter.

As the slightly-too-well-spoken Cady, the rugged Csokas brings just the right kind of seductively languid ambiguity to this pivotal character – so convincingly languid, in fact, you wonder whether the actor will be sufficiently bothered to follow the Russell Crowe route to wider fame. Csokas has got the ability, if that’s the way he wants to go, but it’s Murphy who steals the show as the livewire Jim, lighting up the screen with what’s surely the year’s best child performance. And while this is ostensibly Janey’s story, Peirse’s strikingly mature, precisely modulated performance ensures Kate emerges as the most compelling character. We realise she’s in as much a state of transition as her pubescent daughter, and it’s no accident we see Kate reading Scott Fitzgerald’s classic of disillusionment, This Side of Paradise.

And this is a kind of paradise – Jeffs pays especially close attention to the ambiguous, luminous landscape, all damp greenery and ominously lapping water. But despite the title – and the notoriously drizzly NZ setting – the only rain here is metaphorical, the kind a little of which, according to the adage, must fall into every life. Jeffs’ advertising background is occasionally evident from some ill-advised brief excursions into gauzy black and white (perhaps justifiable as representing Janey’s hand-me-down romantic sensibilities?) but she generally dramatises Kirsty Gunn’s novel with unfussy subtlety.

The melodramatic climax is, presumably, taken from the book, as Janey pays an unreasonably harsh price for her (entirely natural) sexual curiosity. This ending is undeniably powerful, but that doesn’t make it any less disappointing, given the lack of predictability and sentiment with which Jeffs has traced the shifting relationships between the different characters – like Neil (Crowded House) Finn’s soundtrack, she hits nearly all the right notes.

25th August, 2001
(seen Aug-21-01, Cameo, Edinburgh – Film Festival)

by Neil Young