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Rain (2002)
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by Andrew Howe

"A hard rain's gonna fall"
4 stars

For many of us raised in Australia and New Zealand the beach holiday was a rite of passage. In those trying mid-teen years it was an intoxicating blend of sun, surf and the dawning realisation that friendships with the opposite sex would soon bow to the insistent call of newfound hormones, and for the adults it was an excuse to while away the days with late-morning breakfasts and afternoon bourbons. It’s a lethargic lifestyle that’s great if you’re in love and a nightmare if you’re not, and this age-old Antipodean tradition provides the backdrop for Rain, a meditative film that contrasts a young girl’s coming-of-age with her parent’s deteriorating relationship.

Ed (Alistair Browning) and Kate (Sarah Peirse) are a couple whose contented façade isn’t fooling anyone, least of all themselves. The days are long on the Mahurangi peninsula, so Kate amuses herself by drinking hard liquor and fantasising about Cady (Marton Csokas), whose hassle-free existence and intense manner hold a deep-seated attraction for a woman whose carefree youth is nothing more than a distant memory. He also makes his mark on Kate’s daughter Janey (Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki), who at 14 is old enough for infatuation but too young to know better than to tempt fate with a man of low moral fibre.

Based on a novel by Kirsty Gunn, the overriding theme is reminiscent of Ray Lawler‘s Summer of the Seventeenth Doll. It’s about returning to a place awash in cherished memories, only to find that the world has moved on and any attempt to recapture the past only make you miss it that much more. This is Ed’s role in the proceedings – he’s a decent soul, the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind sharing a beer with as the sun goes down, and his growing air of resignation is heartbreaking. He realises the life he once knew is gone forever, so he wanders around in a daze, trying to convince himself that his future isn’t falling down around his ears. Browning’s performance is impeccable, and in a film that doesn’t want for emotion his character’s plight is perhaps the most resonant of them all.

The Kate/Cady thread holds a mirror to petty infidelities and finds them wanting, but it certainly doesn’t portray Kate as a victim. She’s using Cady as much as he’s using her – it’s sex with a stranger as an amusement, deflecting accusations of insufficient self-esteem or unreturned affection in the family unit. Kate’s a jaded, clinical soul, which makes her a perfect match for Cady (who doesn’t seem to give a damn about anything), and the union of two empty vessels sees them part equally unfilled.

The remaining running time is devoted to Janey, charting the concerns of a young girl on the cusp of womanhood. Watching her dabble in the trappings of late adolescence (trying on her mother’s dresses, smoking the odd cigarette) is occasionally endearing, but her flirtations with the opposite sex, which initially amount to nothing more than exercising her feminine authority over a local boy, take a darker turn when she asks Cady to photograph her in what she imagines are provocative poses. Fulford-Wierzbicki effortlessly captures Janey’s imperious demeanour, which can be irritating or touching depending on the situation. Watching someone put away childish things is always disquieting, since it speaks of a future when warm summer days will never seem quite as comforting again, and the film’s success in capturing that period of transition is its greatest strength.

Christine Jeff’s direction is superb, combining evocative locations and a measured pace to hypnotic effect. The languorous atmosphere lowers our guard for the knockout blows, and when it’s over you may find yourself as emotionally exhausted as the characters. My only criticism stems from the denouement, which provides a predictable conclusion to an otherwise original narrative, but since it closes the film on a memorable note it’s not entirely unwelcome.

Rain is a small treasure, enveloping the viewer in a literal and spiritual torpor that is anything but cathartic. It’s the sound of the sea, washing away the deadwood as it lays the rotting foundations bare, and if you’re prepared to listen to its call you’ll be privy to an intelligent and insightful film that treats easy answers with precisely as much respect they deserve.

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originally posted: 06/14/02 12:06:08
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User Comments

11/01/04 beauty is nice A fine, moody film that evokes my own memories of lazy days in a shack with family 4 stars
9/04/04 Phil M. Aficionado Andrew Howe's review captures my own reaction, exactly. Good film, well acted. 4 stars
5/22/02 Heather Honest portrayal of a family whose relationships are on the rocks 4 stars
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