Kiwi thirty-something director Christine Jeffs makes a stunning feature debut with Rain, set on the east coast of the north island of New Zealand in the summer of 1972. Rain is based on the 1994 debut novel of the same name by Kiwi writer Kirsty Gunn, who writes about the Generation X New Zealand experience although she has lived in London for 20 years.
Jeffs graduated from the Australian Film Television and Radio School in 1990 and since then has made a critically acclaimed short film, Stroke (Cannes 1994, Sundance 1995), and received many awards, including a Lion at Cannes for commercial direction.
Rain tells a powerful story of a daughter’s sexual discovery, a mother’s slide into alcoholism and a family’s disintegration, all in the space of a summer beach holiday. The film is hypnotic from the start, a very rare thing these days, as you are drawn into a no-holds-barred coming-of-age story told from the perspective of the 14-year-old protagonist, Janey, played brilliantly by Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki. Alicia puts in a performance worthy of Lolita.
Sarah Peirse (Heavenly Creatures) is outstanding and plays the mother who drinks and flirts, oblivious to the fact that her daughter Janey is watching, picking up clues to adult female sexual behaviour and then manipulating the situation to suit herself. Marton Csokas plays the itinerant, philandering photographer. Alistair Browning plays the husband Ed, lost in his own emotional state. Aaron Murphy makes his screen debut as the youngest child Jim, the catalyst in the story and the one whose performance ultimately steals the film. Neil Finn and Edmund McWilliams collaborated on the soundtrack which complements beautifully the film’s mood and setting.
Rain is a restrained, subtle and sparse film that will not appeal to everyone. The beguiling, dreamy slow motion feel to the film is largely due to the sensual photography of John Toon, Jeffs’ partner and long-time collaborator. At times watching Rain, you almost feel that you are flicking through an old family sepia photograph album. This film will transport those Kiwis and others, like me, who have experienced the beautiful Mahurangi peninsula, back to another time when lazy family holidays in baches by the beach were the norm.
Rain is a small gem. The only drawback is the thinness of the script, but, nevertheless, intelligent storytelling prevails. Rain is yet another example of New Zealand prowess in filmmaking and is not to be missed.