Jane Campion is taking cinema to the darkest human realms

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Jane Campion is taking cinema to the darkest human realms

They stayed with Nani for another five or so years, until she died. Anna and Jane refuse to attend his funeral. Over the years, he tried to explain to his parents what it was like for him, and they were never believed.

Campion describes his parents as loving but fundamentally absent during his childhood. The Campiones were an important couple in New Zealand theatre. Shortly before Jane was born, he became the founder of the country’s first professional touring company, New Zealand Players. Richard Campion was a director, and Edith was one of the great New Zealand actresses of her generation. In 1959, he was awarded an MBE for his theatrical work. But it was a troubled home – Richard was engaged in several affairs, and Edith suffered from depression, which led to her several suicide attempts and several adult lives in institutions.

Appeared in Edith Campion’s early film “An Angel at My Table”. (More than two decades later, Campion’s daughter, Alice, had the lead role in “Top of the Lake”) Campion remembers her mother as delicate, sensitive, and funny. When his children were young, he turned to writing, eventually publishing a collection of short stories and a novel. She encouraged Campion’s creative pursuits, but she was also moody and distant. When Campion was young and went to friends’ homes, she interviewed moms, trying to figure out their schedules, their habits, what they did. How were the mothers?

Campion told me about the day his mother took him out of school for a dentist appointment. “We didn’t do a lot of things together, so I was so excited to show him where I hang my coat.” After the dentist, they had a picnic in a park, and Campion seemed to have his mother’s mind elsewhere. “I tried all kinds of wonderful things — somersaults and handstands, to entertain her, to get her attention — but she still looked away. Maybe it was depression. I remember her lap I had an egg, and it just… rolled over.”

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There was a time when Campion was so bewildered and persuaded by his mother’s despair that he told her that if she wanted to die she would understand. “It really scares me to be near their complete lack of hope,” he told an interviewer in 1995. At university, he decided to study structural anthropology, the way humans use myth and social structures to resolve the fundamental opposites of existence: life and death, light and darkness.

Campion said it’s harder for her to feel vulnerable than most people: “I associate it with fear.”

“You’re deeply affected by feeling insecure,” I said, “but tenderness is the core of your work!”

“Well, if it doesn’t mean much to me, it doesn’t matter,” she said. “There is power in this. And in fact, my attention decides: What in the world do I pay attention to? Can you really fake it? Can you really fake attention? Attention is love.”

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