Juniper benefits from Charlotte Rampling’s layered appearance as a grandmother grappling with death

Juniper is a drama with a black comic strip edge about a fragmented family, and the unexpected life-affirming influence of its devious matriarch. In the main role is Charlotte Rampling, an actor who is endowed with a very scornful side-eye who is able to drain flower vases from across the room.

The film relies heavily on Rampling’s ability to convey the intensity of small movements, as for most of the time he is barely able to move, barely moving due to a broken leg and mysterious underlying health condition, while his emotions are inflamed by excessive amounts. the gin was served to him in a large glass jug.

The first feature from New Zealand writer-director Matthew J Saville (not to be confused with Australian filmmaker Matt Saville), Juniper plays a film convention about a family brought together in difficult circumstances, who learn to overcome their differences only after some excruciating trial and error.

A gloomy looking woman with gray hair wearing a gray silk shirt is sitting on an ornate chair
Saville and Rampling worked on revising the script for three days after their first meeting in Paris. Two weeks later, Rampling officially accepted the role.(Provided: Transmission)

Specifically, it’s about the cross-generational relationship between Ruth and her grandson Sam (George Ferrier), a suicidal teenager who attended a nearby private school and never recovered from the death of his mother.

Sam’s athletic good looks and crown of golden hair exude the aura of a confident private school athlete, but this is a film where looks are deceiving, and Sam is in trouble with his privileges—while Ruth, in turn, is an unlikely figure to attract. she came out of her bad taste.

Set in the 90s, the film opens in a stately, unkempt house in a green and leafy area of ​​New Zealand. The family was wealthy, obviously, and when Ruth arrived from her home in England after a long absence and in poor health, it initially seemed like she might be a direct link to the rich lineage of the Old Country.

Close-up of young man with shaggy blonde hair and bloody eyebrows after playing soccer
“Juniper is a very personal story based on my experiences as a teenager,” Saville wrote in the director’s statement.(Provided: Transmission)

Ruth has an unusual past, as a war correspondent who has traveled the world witnessing some of the best and worst of humanity. The experience hurt him, we will learn, but it also gave him valuable wisdom.

His drinking, as well as his bullying, appear to be manifestations of some kind of PTSD, which has long been simmering and untreated. His grandson, who was left to help care for him while his father (the wonderful but mostly off-screen Marton Csokas) is summoned to England, becomes the main target of his revenge.

The two are destined to become unlikely friends, but it takes time. As is often the case in scripts about grumpy parents and their influence on teens with their lives ahead of them, Ruth’s abusive nature has a purpose, though it’s initially unclear.

Hal Ashby’s 1971 absurdist black comedy Harold and Maude addresses some of this generational cross-currents—including teen depression—with a bit more imagination and less predictability. It would have been nice if the movie Saville wasn’t so compliant with the redeeming notes of its final act.

Two young men look excited as they sit next to an old woman in a wheelchair who points a gun in the air
Ruth’s role was inspired by Saville’s grandmother, Moccy, whom she described in The Spinoff as “intelligent, funny, and sometimes brutal”.(Provided: Transmission)

But Rampling makes it worth watching, even if you get a feel for where it’s headed. The role is reminiscent of his performance in another house-dominated film, Francois Ozon’s 2003 Mystery Pool, in which he played a grumpy British writer trying to write his next novel, clashing with the feisty young daughter of his French publisher.

Saville doesn’t opt ​​for the dreamy Hitchcockian machinations of the film, but he does take advantage of the house’s rambling splendor, with its dark rooms and sills offering views over the green, slightly Gothic New Zealand countryside.

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