Though she followed it with a string of brilliant films, Jane Campion will always be remembered for the shock and delight of her stunning debut feature, Sweetie. Campion focuses her askew, discerning lens on the hazardous relationship between the buttoned-down, superstitious Kay and her rampaging, devil-may-care sister, "Sweetie," and by extension, their entire familys profoundly rotten roots. A feast of distinctly framed photography and captivating, idiosyncratic characters, Sweetie heralded the emergence of this enormously gifted director as well as the breakthrough of Australian cinema, which would take international film by storm in the Nineties.
Chock full of director Jane Campion's trademark sensitivity, her debut, Sweetie, is slyly emotional without sentimentality. In this family drama, Kay (Karen Colston) stars as a prudish, confused loner, who chooses her mate, Louis (Tom Lycos), based on the shape of the mole on his face. As a couple, they lack passion, due to Kay's fear of the erotic. Once her mentally ill sister, Dawn, a.k.a. Sweetie (Genevieve Lemon) comes to visit, the viewer understands that Kay's temperance has evolved out of her wish to tame her wild sister. As Kay's parents weather turbulence, and after Sweetie suffers a tragic fate, Kay's happiness becomes less and less tangible, until she realizes the basic human need for love. Campion embellishes this story of disconnection with camera shots that feel lonesome; a scene in which Kay and Louis swim is shot from across the body of water, at the water's eye level. An old-fashioned setting, at least in Kay's home, mocks the idea of a functional nuclear family. On every level, Sweetie is crafted by its tone, one of melancholy infused with hope, making it not only Campion's best film, but also a clear selection for the Criterion Collection. --Trinie Dalton