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Sweetie: The Criterion Collection

The strongest motif running through Jane Campion's work is that of a woman character's struggle to understand herself and her sexuality. To which her approach can be sensual and clinical, moody but detached. These themes appear in some of her short works, but it is fully revealed in her first full-length effort, Sweetie (1989). The film begins with Kay (Karen Colston), who snags husband Louis (Tom Lycos) out from under another woman because of some fortune-told tea leaves. Their initial romance was hot, but after having a child their sexual drive for each other has evaporated almost completely. Enter Kay's sister Dawn (Genevieve Lemon) with her "manager" boyfriend Gordon (Jon Darling) in tow. They break into Kay's place and need somewhere to crash. Kay is reluctant, but Dawn — who's nicknamed "Sweetie" — wins out. Sweetie is a feral creature, prone to reverting to animalistic sounds, biting, and generally acting like a spoiled brat. Sweetie used to rule the roost as a child, but she never snapped out of her neediness. As Kay and her husband sort through their sexual dysfunctions, they incorporate Sweetie into their lives, and it leads to re-engaging with their parents, which regresses both daughters into adolescent states. Campion states on this DVD's commentary that she tends to think organizationally about her career, and she knew she wanted to make this film, but felt that it should be done early in on since it was a smaller idea. It's a bold statement, but accurate. Sweetie is a small work, but her eye had long been trained by her short films, and so it never feels like a film compromised by budget. It's also very smart in how it shows the malaise that can settle over a long-term relationship and the tensions and rivalries between siblings that can become manifest long after childhood. But it's also gangly, rough-edged by intention, and Genevieve Lemon's performance is fully committed but hard to stomach. As a narrative, this sort of sibling rivalry is familiar, but no one staged it quite like Campion, even if there's still something embryonic about this early effort. Sweetie suggests that a great artist would emerge shortly. The Criterion Collection presents the film in a beautiful anamorphic transfer (1.78:1) with a newly created Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and a commentary by Campion, co-writer Gerald Lee, and cinematographer Sally Bongers. The featurette "Making Sweetie" includes comments from stars Lemon and Colston (23 min.), while other extras include Campion's short films "An Exercise in Discipline: Peel," which won the Palme D'Or (9 min.), "Passionless Moments," (12 min.) and "A Girl's Own Story" (27 min.), as well as a conversation between Campion and critic Peter Thompson on those early movies (19 min.), a stills gallery, and a trailer. Keep-case.
—DSH



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