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.
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.
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.
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.
Downbeat indie rock and subtle zoom lenses help build an air of melancholy and reclusive suspense, which extends to glimpses of Sam’s glitzy high school with its dark alleyways and neurotic regularities.
Saville manages to create emotional authenticity for Ruth and Sam’s difficult relationship, too, though it’s a shame she doesn’t linger in their distrusting stage much longer.
As Rampling guides the film to its eventual emotional meltdown, along the way he displays a sometimes surprising range—in one particularly poignant scene dragging himself impolitely across the floor for a bottle of booze.
Rampling is one of the great actors of his generation who remains an important presence in whatever he does. Basically English but closely related to European cinema (he lived and worked in France for decades) he has a sharpness and nuance that never left him through the various stages of his career.
After starting out as a model, she had her first roles in British films during the ’60s before moving to the continent, becoming synonymous with the pinnacle of ’70s European auteur cinema in films such as Visconti’s The Damned and Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter.
His work ethic and versatility have ensured a prolific career ever since, and despite his professional Eurocentrism, he earned an Academy Award nomination for the 2015 drama 45 Years, and continued his role in Hollywood giant Dune (part two releases next year), where he brought the gravitas of congratulations. come.
Amid this simple and beloved New Zealand drama, he exudes a rich and layered character. If you consider that Saville has barely given the audience more than a few knockoff photos from Ruth’s past, and just a few background anecdotes, it’s a tribute to Rampling’s subtly embodied acting that the character emerges so flawlessly.
As the shadows of regret and anger in his performance give way to warmer accents of love and kindness, not to mention his mischievous appetite for fun, he makes the film’s slightly worn-out swagger believable, and even inspires enduring fondness.
Juniper is in theaters now.