Film review – Jane Eyre (2011)

11 August 2011
Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska)

Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska)

The challenge of adapting a novel, especially one that is so loved and very much considered a classic, is to ensure that it captures the essence of the source material while being a cinematic work that is successful on its own terms. Charlotte Brontë’s 1857 proto-feminist novel Jane Eyre is certainly one that carries an enormous amount of cultural baggage since it is so highly esteemed as an important literary work. Fortunately, this 2011 adaptation by Cary Fukunaga wonderfully brings the story to life in a way that those of us who have never read the novel can be completely seduced by.

A considerable part of what makes Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre work so well is the casting, especially with Mia Wasikowska in the titular role. Wasikowska is the right age to play Jane and embodies the degree in which Jane is physically a young woman but emotionally an older soul. She brings to the part both a sympathetic vulnerability and a determined stoicism that she needs to protect herself after an affectionless childhood and a disciplined adolescence. Jane is humble and withdrawn, yet as the film progresses Wasikowska’s performance hints at her frustrations and yearning for something more. Her battle of wits with the mysterious and powerful Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Fassbender) generates a subtle sexual tension as the two damaged souls size each other up with the potential for something more enticingly suggested.

Jane Eyre: Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Fassbender)

Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Fassbender)

Much of the film expressively conveys Jane’s emotional state and in that regard Fukunaga enhances the Gothic elements of the story where the setting takes on various characteristics to express Jane’s mental and emotional state. Passionate outbursts arrive with thunderous storms, love is delivered in sun-drenched spring mornings and windswept desolate moors are perfect for anguish and despair. And at the centre of it all is Thornfield manor with its dark secrets and mysteries.

Despite the abundance of film style that’s used to express Jane’s emotional state, the film never feels overtly melodramatic due to Fukunaga’s modern visual style. The camera is often positioned from behind Jane’s head, an increasingly common technique to situate the audience right behind the character to see the world as they see it, but in a slightly detached observational way to convey Jane’s guardedness. A real pleasure from the film is watching her and Rochester lower their defences to deliver lots of wonderfully tormented romantic dialogue.

This new adaptation truly announces Wasikowska’s arrival as an actor of significant talent. Fassbender also continues his incredibly good run and he is fast becoming one of his generation’s most versatile performers. Jane Eyre is only Fukunaga’s second feature film and it establishes him as a director worth following. The composition of light and colour in every shot that he achieves with cinematographer Adriano Goldman conveys a remarkable cinematic eye. Far from being a worthy and stodgy literary adaptation, Jane Eyre is a passionate and romantic love story that feels as fresh as it must have done when Brontë originally wrote it.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 1

22 July 2011
Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre

To kick off my 2011 Melbourne International Film Festival diary I thought I’d share my responses to the films in the festival that I’ve already seen due to advance media screenings. The one that has really stood out for me is the latest adaptation of Jane Eyre. I’ve never read the novel nor have I seen any other adaptations so this film was my introduction to Charlotte Brontë’s classic tale of adolescence, class and love. Director Cary Fukunaga has ensured that every shot in the film is immaculate with a perfect balance of light and colour, allowing key scenes to beautifully express Jane’s state of mind. Mia Wasikowska as Jane and Michael Fassbender as Rochester have a wonderful chemistry as two damaged souls who are drawn to each other despite their reservations. I’ve never had a burning desire to read the novel, but this dark, passionate and romantic film has changed that.

[EDIT 11/8/2011: Read a full review of Jane Eyre]

Unfortunately I can’t say the same for Norwegian Wood, an adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s novel by Tran Anh Hung, who among other things made the incredible 1995 film Cyclo. I’m not sure whether Norwegian Wood was too weighed down by its literary origins or if Tran was too self-consciously trying to make a worthy art-house film, but I lost interest after the first hour. It does contain several wonderful moments, especially when the music and cinematography blend together to evoke memory, but the long running time and lack of empathetic characters make it increasingly laboured for me.

The other literary adaptation I’ve seen is The Eye of the Storm, but a recent embargo on reviews prevents me from saying anything until the day of its theatrical release on 15 September!

Senna

Senna

Finally, I’ve been lucky enough to see the documentary Senna. Now I had such little interest in Formula One car racing that I didn’t even know who Ayrton Senna was until I started hearing about this film. Having now seen it I feel like I not only have an intimate knowledge of Senna’s life and legacy, but I also have an understanding of the dynamics of Formula One racing, both on and off the track, and an appreciation for why people are so drawn to it. I’ve always argued that good documentaries are able to transcend their subject matter to appeal to a wider audience and Senna does exactly that. Comprising of only archival footage, this is also a brilliant example of how good editing can successfully carve out a compelling and exciting story from the hours and hours of available footage.

MIFFhaps
My first MIFFhap for this festival is managing to miss Opening Night. Not only did I have a gig that prevented me from seeing the film, but I forgot to leave the house with the wristband thingy that I needed to get into the party. I am a goose.

Show us your MIFF
It is fortunate that my wife Sarah Caldwell happens to also be a cinephile who loves MIFF so we will see each other once or twice during the next 17 days. Sarah’s been coming to MIFF as a dedicated attendee since 1995 and picks out seeing After Life in 1999 as her favourite MIFF moment. Her biggest MIFFhap was getting appendicitis in the middle of a festival and missing one weekend’s worth of films. Surviving Life and Eternity are two films that caught her eye in this year’s program and she recommends seeing no more than two films back-to-back in order to best get through the festival. The restorative powers of hot chocolate are also spoken of highly. When not seeing films Sarah works at the State Library of Victoria, does research for an upcoming documentary and writes. She lists ChinatownThe Philadelphia Story, Tokyo Story, La Strada, Le SamouraïAlien and Tai-Chi Master as some of her all-time favourite films. She also wanted to include a Jim Jarmusch film but couldn’t decide which one.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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