Monday, April 16, 2018

Heavenly Creatures

Director Peter Jackson

HEAVENLY CREATURES             A                    
New Zealand  Great Britain  Germany  (108 mi)  1994  ‘Scope  d:  Peter Jackson

Orson Welles?  Aaugh!  The most hideous man alive!    

There’s something desperately exciting about bodies on stretchers.   —Juliet (Kate Winslet)

The happy event is to take place tomorrow afternoon.  Next time I write in this diary mother will be dead.  How odd, yet how pleasing. 
—Pauline (Melanie Lynskey)

This still remains Peter Jackson’s chilling masterpiece, his most thrillingly inventive work, one that melds all of his many talents together in this brilliantly edited film, which is a mesmerizing portrait of two dizzyingly adolescent girls who are so disconnected and estranged from the world that they bond in an obsessively infatuating friendship that includes writing a novel together, where the world they write about intersects in their real lives, where the two find it hard to tell the two worlds apart, relying totally and exclusively on the friendship and love of the other, at the expense of all else, as their fragile connection to reality soon loses its hinges.  Based on a real life event, Jackson brings it to life through the recreated script obtained from the meticulous diary entries of one of the characters (Pauline), where her exact words are used as much as possible.  This is the film that introduces Kate Winslet to the world as Juliet, and she is in every sense of the word superb, as her free-wheeling independence and fertile imagination is what lays open the groundwork for the repressed, darker side of Pauline (Melanie Lynskey) to find expression in the real world.  One of the best uses of opera music, so synonymous with emotional excess, in any film of recollection, as it so perfectly expresses that fractured schism, that hole in reality, in this case featuring the extraordinary talents of legendary tenor Mario Lanza as the ultimate image of male sexuality, but not in any real sense, only in a fantasized dream world, while Orson Welles, on the other hand, is despised by Juliet, calling him “It” and also “the most hideous man alive,” where her detestation of Welles comes alive in a shadowy THIRD MAN (1949) sequence, Heavenly Creatures (9/11) Movie CLIP - Running From ... - YouTube (2:42), where the two girls are racing against their own internally fantasized images of evil, escaping from him, escaping from themselves, escaping from reality until they end up naked in each other’s arms, perhaps the only salvation either one will ever feel over the course of their entire lives. 

Strangely enough, the film is based on a true story, as in real life, Juliet grew up to become British mystery novelist Anne Perry.  Opening brilliantly with the subversively dry Buñuelian tone used in a travel documentary on Christchurch, New Zealand in the early 1950’s, a city where only Copenhagen is more renowned for bicycling, creating an optimistic and positively sun-drenched view of the city which is quickly interrupted by two young girls running and shrieking hysterically through the woods all covered in blood, which leads to the opening title sequence.  Pauline is perfectly miserable in her world with large scars running down one leg, where her parents run a boarding home, so unwanted strangers are always entering and exiting her life at will.  She seems to have a constant frown on her face, never smiling, looking like the eternal grouch, where in her class portrait, she’s easy to pick out as the only one not smiling.  The lovely Juliet enters during the middle of the school year, an English girl who’s spent much of her life traveling, who’s been brought to New Zealand for health purposes, as she’s had a history of spots on her lung.  Both girls have spent many months in hospital beds relying upon little more than their own imaginations to help them recuperate.  But Pauline fancies Juliet’s moxie, as she’s not afraid to stand up to the ultra strict and conservative teachers while remaining perfectly capable of defending her point of view.  Pauline on the other hand simply seethes with anguish most of the time.   

As the only two girls who are excused from gym class, the two read and invent stories together, becoming inseparable, where in one of many Mario Lanza montage sequences, their lives are a whirlwind of dreamlike happiness, interrupting Juliet’s parents in their living room, playing a Mario Lanza record, dancing together out of the room and out of the house, Heavenly Creatures ~ The Donkey Serenade scene HQ  (3:50), and after another quick cut to the gym class, find themselves on a rollicking bicycle ride down a country road when a car forces Pauline off her bike, where the two end up in the woods ripping their clothes off, actually ending with a quick kiss.  In yet another, they are building a giant sandcastle by the sea when the camera swoops in through the castle entranceway and enters a fairytale fantasy world of Borovnia, eventually leading to the 4th world, an idyllic paradise of unparalleled beauty and enchantment.  It is here that Pauline and Juliet meet with their imaginary friends, where the intensity of their happiness leads to a kind of intimate closeness that begins to worry their parents, where another ultra conservative family chosen therapist has a close up on his mouth as he slowly enunciates the word with exaggerated perfection for the parents as it rolls off his lips — homosexuality.  So to the film’s credit, it doesn’t shy way from this subject, but it’s also not the focal point of the film, as neither of these teenage girls seems to have much of an active sex life.  Instead, the film teeters on their fragile hold on reality, where both have hugely depressing parental issues where neither feels appreciated or loved, and only in the protected arms of one another do they feel liberated and safe from the boring conformist existence that surrounds them.    

Jackson does a simply exquisite job blending the fantasy and the real, finding an inner tension from that tenuous grasp on reality, while relishing in some brilliantly colorful fantasy sequences that are as visually bold and inventive as anything he’s ever done over his entire career.  Winslet and Lynskey are both amazing, and Jackson provides an illuminating dream world to surround them that blends seamlessly into their real lives, where they enter and exit at will, a beautiful mix of ecstacy and anguish as the turbulent world around them grows ever grimmer.  An attempt to keep them apart by overly strict parents only motivates them to do the unthinkable in an attempt to free themselves from imposed restraints.  The use of Nabucco’s “Humming Chorus” Giacomo Puccini: "Coro a bocca chiusa" (Humming Chorus) - YouTube (3:14) is stunning, one of the more intimately ethereal works in all of opera, feeling like one of the more exquisite death marches ever portrayed onscreen, which couldn’t be more eerie and unbelievably haunting.  The tenderness is the key, and that superbly holds the entire film together.  Written by Jackson and his real-life spouse, Frances Walsh, it’s a brilliantly written story, perhaps Jackson’s most luminously photographed film by Alun Bollinger, perfectly acted, including the measured performance from Pauline’s overworked, working class mother, uncomfortable at times and hauntingly edgy, while dazzling the audience at other moments with a sublime grasp of cinematic ecstacy and pure joy.  The film is simply oozing with inventiveness, making this a remarkable experience that holds up better than anything else this multi-talented director has ever done, perfectly mixing a near documentary realism with a hallucination tinged phantasmagorical fantasy world that is never less than enchanting. 

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