Jane Campion is the president of the jury of the Festival de Cannes this year. She is also the only woman that has won the Palme d’Or in the history of the festival, and the second ever that has been nominated to an Oscar for Best Director (Kathryn Bigelow is the other one). Her presence at this year’s edition of Cannes raises some important questions about the figure of women as film directors, and the shocking scarcity of them in the movie industry. Campion was interviewed recently by The Guardian and shared an illustrating anecdote:
She recalls with some horror an event she attended for Cannes’ 50th anniversary, when she found herself on a stage with all the other Palme d’Or winners – the only woman there. “It was a shocking moment. It was embarrassing for everyone. I think everyone felt that it was really not right.” She still would be the only woman, but the festival is emphatically not the problem. “My sense is that Cannes is very interested in new voices in cinema, never mind where it comes from or the sex of it. It’s to do with who funds films in the first place.”
Born in New Zealand and now living in Sydney, Jane Campion is one of the most influential filmmakers of the century thanks to her unique vision. She studied Anthropology and Art, which make the perfect combination for a movie director. She can express universal feelings and emotions through the story, without even needing words. Just through visuals. Well, that’s the key of a good movie director. I got to know Jane Campion through The Piano, the movie that made her win the Palme d’Or at Cannes and an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 1994. I love the film for many reasons: its subtlety, the story, the great performances of all the actors (did you know that Holly Hunter played the piano herself for the movie?), the soundtrack by Michael Nyman, the photography, the costume design… I like revisiting this film every now and then to analyse it further and get a closer look at what Campion wanted to tell us. From the stage play that the girls do, to the notes that Ada writes. No detail is superfluous. The Piano can be seen through multiple lenses. As a version of Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, as a Gothic Romantic novel, as a view on human spirituality, or as an interpretation of romantic colonalism. Above all, a homage to feminity. The film also raises debates on the effects of the subjectivity of the narrator, which is very well explained by Gwen. Ada is mute ‘by choice’, and we get to see her voice in the first scene of the movie, but she never speaks again until the end:
But is Ada the real narrator as her voice suggests it? Are we going to see the world the way she sees it, or perceives it? Choosing a mute as the lead character is intentional; Ada’ senses are sharpened and ours are too. Is the viewer inside her mind or is he omniscient? The Piano’s overture creates a new form of narrative – it exposes viewers to a simple storytelling, only for Jane Campion to open them to the subtle exercise of identifying the true narrator.
Jane Campion was portrayed in the documentary Story of film as one of the key figures of the 90’s along with Baz Luhrmann, also Australian. Story of film is a fantastic documentary by Mark Cousin that explains the evolution of cinema from its birth to Avatar. The documentary is divided into several episodes, each of them dedicated to a certain decade and its most relevant filmmakers and movies. The documentary shows each director’s references, the changes that introduced every key movie, and the world events that shaped the stories. I highly recommend it for all movie lovers out there. You can watch it here. This interview by Tabb and Dieckmann also reveals some interesting details about Campion’s vision:
“I’m finding myself less and less interested in what you can do with shots and things. There’s probably only about twenty different possibilities in the end. I’m more after what sorts of sensations and feelings and subtleties you can get through your story and can bring out through performances—although at the same time, I’m always wondering about style, trying things out. I do a lot of drawings for my films. ‘The Piano Lesson’ [the movie’s original title] is very sophisticated, easily the most adult or complex material I’ve attempted. It’s the first film I’ve written that has a proper story, and it was a big struggle for me to write. It meant I had to admit the power of narrative. And there is definitely room to play, visually—in fact, there’s a big call for it.” About being a painter: “Being responsible for everything you put in your picture, and being able to defend it. Keeping everything clear around you so you know what is operating. To open the wound and keep it clean.”
Some of Jane Campion’s favourite films:
1. Seven Samurai (Akira Kurosawa)
2. The Night Porter (Liliana Cavani)
3. The Firemen’s Ball (Miloš Forman)
4. That Obscure Object of Desire (Luis Buñuel)
5. Contempt (Jean-Luc Godard)
6. Tokyo Story (Yasujiro Ozu)
7. La strada (Federico Fellini)
8. Scenes from a Marriage (Ingmar Bergman)
9. Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (Hiroshi Inagaki)
(list published in Criterion)
Jane Campion’s latest work is Top of the Lake, a TV mini-series with Holly Hunter and Elisabeth Moss about the disappearance of a young girl in mysterious circumstances.
All thanks to The Piano: Holly Hunter (Best Actress), Anna Paquin (Best Supporting Actress) and Jane Campion (Best Original Screenplay) at the Oscars in 1994.
“Film-making is not about whether you’re a man or a woman; it’s about sensitivity and hard work and really loving what you do. But women are going to tell different stories – there would be many more stories in the world if women were making more films”. Jane Campion