Friday, October 20, 2017

Top of the Lake: China Girl (Jane Campion, 2017)

Jane Campion’s most recent project, Top of the Lake: China Girl, a follow-up to Top of the Lake (2013), is a 6-hour, episodic journey that premiered, variously, at Cannes, on the Sundance channel, and, played, most recently, at the Vancouver Film International Festival. It is, as its length and as its screening venues suggest, difficult to pin neatly into a category. Is it a gorgeously shot TV show? A very long film? Campion and her work, as usual, resist tidy classifications of all sorts.

Does her work represent “female annihilation in bonnets,” as BBC Radio 5 film critic Mark Kermode once suggested, or is she definitely a feminist director, her work “emphasiz[ing] and almost perverse figuration of female strength” as Professor of Film Studies at University of East Anglia, Yvonne Trasker has said? Campion herself has championed women and women filmmakers, quoted as saying in an 1993 Cahiers du Cinema piece, “I think I know things about women that men cannot express.” And yet she “bridles” Virginia Wright Wexman notes in Jane Campion: Interviews, “at being narrowly identified as a feminist filmmaker,” and Wexman cites Campion as saying, “‘I think it’s quite clear in my work that my orientation isn’t political or doesn’t come out of modern politics.’”

Ultimately, it’s Campion’s work’s resistance to all kinds of categories, feminist and otherwise, that thrills me most. She does feature vibrant, strongly characterized women and female relationships in all of her films – sisters, mothers, daughters, friends – but her women are messy, often complicit in their own oppression, often loving men that oppress them. She often, too, defines, examines, and explores the patriarchal structures that surround her female characters, exposing those structures as destructive and abusive, and yet her men are messy, too, rarely simply openly misogynist without also being one some level complex and sympathetic. . . . 

Read the rest over at Seattle Screen Scene.

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