Although Christine Jeffs is generally better known for her more recent films, Sylvia (2003) and Sunshine Cleaning (2008), it is her debut feature Rain (2001) that left the biggest impression on me as a film lover. Adapted from the novel by Kirsty Gunn, Jeffs’ screenplay and direction results in a film that manages to find the delicate balance between portraying fully developed characters and losing itself in a sensual realm in which the camera lingers on small details. The cinematography by John Toon, Jeffs’ long-time collaborator both on and off-screen, situates the viewer within a bittersweet and nostalgic atmosphere of unspoken longings and illicit desires.
I do have a particular way I like things edited. I can be a pain for editors. Things are made in the moments and in the details.
– Christine Jeffs
Taking Gunn’s book as its source material, Rain focuses predominantly on Janie (Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki), a 13-year-old girl on vacation with her family in a remote seaside location in New Zealand. Their lazy days are filled with swimming, parties and aimless lounging; however, beneath the veneer of frivolity are ripples of unease. The film captures Janie’s sexual awakening; an emotional transition that is matched by the cracks and fissures that are slowly becoming apparent in her parents’ (Alastair Browning and Sarah Peirse) tenuous marriage.
Rain was shot in the relatively short period of 32 days; however, the finished production does not possess a hurried feel. Rather, Rain is endowed with a very slow and organic mood. Due to Jeffs’ training as a film editor, the film is carefully structured around vignettes that reveal the difficult ties within the family unit. By composing the film is this manner Jeffs places the viewer at the centre of the action to observe moments, such as secret and passionate kisses, concealed glimpses and private desperation. Watching Rain feels slightly voyeuristic and claustrophobic, as you are made to bear witness to the characters’ most intimate emotions.
There is always an element of psychological disturbance and the discomforting erosion of innocence in coming-of-age narratives; however, Rain notably uses the landscape to symbolically convey inner turmoil, whereby the seemingly idyllic beach setting is marked with imperfection. Ironically, there are no scenes that actually feature rainfall in the film, but the narrative itself is symbolically wet and saturated in melancholy. Jeffs’ focus on details in the environment is poetic, but also deeply unsettling. Touching on the sexual curiosity of youth, disillusionment and hidden pain, Rain is a sombre film, but well worth seeking out.