Rain Review

May 03, 2002 | 5:28am EDT

It's 1972 in New Zealand and 13-year-old Janey and kid brother Jim are spending the summer with their parents Kate and Ed in a sunny bayside resort community not far from the water. Kate and Ed who both like their liquor and love to party have drifted apart. Kate as Janey observes is also drifting in the direction of vagabond photographer Cady whose boat is anchored nearby. Janey soon realizes that her mother and Cady are more than casual friends. The chemistry between the two adults triggers Janey's sexual awakening to the extent that she begins to flirt dangerously with Cady and even competes with her own mother. When Cady succumbs to the teen's request for a photo shoot in the nearby woods more than photos are snapped. But such irresponsible abandon leads to an unforeseen tragedy.

One of first-time feature film director Christine Jeffs' biggest coups is to get such convincing performances from all leads especially from Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki's Janey in a stunning feature debut and Aaron Murphy as younger brother Jim. Another New Zealand art film Heavenly Creatures put the then unknown Kate Winslet on the map. Coincidentally Sarah Peirse so excellent as Janey's restless mother also played a principle role in Heavenly Creatures an early effort from Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings). Marton Csokas is superb as the free-spirited randy photographer and Alistair Browning in the far more dreary role of passive husband Ed manages to bring compassion and dignity to a rather pathetic character.

Forecast: Mark Rain as an auspicious debut for feature director Christine Jeffs who adapted the screenplay from Kirsty Gunn's novel by the same name. Jeffs almost making her magical location another character miraculously evokes an atmosphere infused with so many familiar elements of the vacation neverland: the pervasive sun that dulls and transports; the refreshing beckoning water that lulls and seduces; the whimsical weather that parallels human desire and moods; and the boozy festive interludes that allow human folly to flourish with abandon in such near-surreal and intoxicating playgrounds far from the workaday world. A minor flaw here is that nothing convincingly sets up the horrible event that will end the summer. Although a feature directorial debut Rain is a thoroughly accomplished and entertaining art house entry.

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