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[whitespace] Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki
Growing Up In A Hurry: Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki plays a teenage wild thing in 'Rain.'

Erotic Dip

A family swims in emotional deep waters in 'Rain'

By Traci Vogel

WHEN KIRSTY GUNN'S 1996 novel, Rain, came out, many people plucked it off the bookstore shelf because of its cover image, a black-and-white photograph of a scowling preteen girl immersed in dark, swirling water up to her neck. The arresting photograph mirrored many of the book's contradictory themes--anxiety and lushness, danger and beauty, confrontation and comfort, rebellion and belonging. Looking at the photograph, you couldn't help but wonder, How deep is that water and how long can that girl stay afloat?

The answer, in the book and the movie adaptation by director Christine Jeffs, is, Not for long. Set in 1972, in the seedy aftermath of the sexual revolution, Rain makes discomfort its drum, and 13-year-old Janey (Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki) dances to the beat of it. Janey is staying at a lakeside trailer with her chain-smoking mother, Kate (Sarah Peirse), her bewildered father, Ed (Alistair Browning), and her precocious and disarmingly freckled little brother, Jim (Aaron Murphy). Kate, who seems utterly bored by motherhood, finds erotic escape in a photographer named Cady (Marton Csokas, the Russell Crowe look-alike who played Celeborn, Lord of the Galadrim, in Lord of the Rings).

While Kate swims closer to adultery and alcoholism, and Ed mows the lawn, Janey and Jim run around like wild things. They wake to a house suffused in hangover, make themselves breakfast and explore as much as they can of the sun-bleached, gritty landscape before night falls and the adult parties begin. Soon, however, Janey rebels against having to watch Jim, and her resentment sharpens her own sexual interest. As she careens toward Cady in a kind of competition with her mother, the movie's imagery surges into storminess and foreboding (although the rain of the title tantalizingly never appears), culminating in what is surely one of the most fraught sex scenes in recent moviedom, complete with undulating pine trees.

There is a lot to be uncomfortable with in Rain. This is a squirm-in-your-seat kind of movie, and Christine Jeffs doesn't shy away from the sexual implications of the material. The novel relies heavily on poetic language and the setting's natural metaphors--water, storms, tides, boats--to filter its emotional impact. Translating this kind of story to the screen is about as easy as making a fruit cocktail without a can opener. Jeffs attempts to convey the story's literary qualities by using black-and-white and sepia images, and slow motion and extreme close-ups. Sometimes, this works beautifully, but often it's clunky, and the clunkiness just increases the discomfort.

But adolescence is a season of harbingers and melodrama, and since Rain is seen through the eyes of poor Janey much of the cinematic artfulness can be forgiven. Rain is a film full of graceful performances, beautiful scenery and harsh realities in the midst of good intentions. It treats emotions like real things, not like Hollywood taglines, which makes it worth a swim.

Rain (Unrated; 92 min.), directed and written by Christine Jeffs, based on the novel by Kirsty Gunn, photographed by John Toon and starring Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki, Sarah Peirse and Marton Csokas, opens Friday at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the May 30-June 5, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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