Sweetie (Blu-ray)(The Criterion Collection, 4.19.2011)
Through the ups and down of twenty-plus years directing features, Jane Campion has maintained an impressively personal sensibility, avoiding mainstream opportunities in favour of artful classicism (The Portrait of a Lady, Bright Star) and eccentric, even radical genre films (Holy Smoke, In the Cut). But nowhere is her individualism more apparent than in her enigmatic, hyper-stylized feature debut (prior to this, she made two TV movies and several shorts). The world of Sweetie is more ordinary than any of the worlds Campion went on to explore later in her career, but the film's most quotidian elements liberate her to take risks elsewhere, particularly in terms of character, tone and style. The result is arguably the best film of her varied and provocative career.
Like Criterion's recent Fat Girl Blu-ray, this Sweetie disc contains the same contents as its DVD predecessor, but with a new high-def transfer. Actually, those earlier DVDs featured "restored, high-definition" transfers, but since the DVD format is unable to relay HD, these transfers had to wait for Blu-ray to reach their full potential. In any case, I can't remember the last time a film this modestly-scaled looked so eye-popping on Blu-ray.
Unlike Fat Girl, Sweetie features a wealth of terrific extras, including two featurettes and three of Campion's acclaimed shorts (in HD): An Exercise in Discipline: Peel, Passionless Moments and A Girl's Own Story. Like the trio of shorts on Criterion's recent Fish Tank Blu-ray, these works hold their own alongside their director's features, even if they were made for a fraction of the cost.
The other highlight of this disc is a lively commentary featuring Campion, co-writer Gerard Lee and cinematographer Sally Bongers. Just as the film itself is more overtly comic than Campion's other films, this track is far more amusing than her other commentaries, several of which (The Piano, Holy Smoke) are exclusive to foreign DVDs. Much of the humor stems from the unusual dynamic between Campion and ex-boyfriend Lee, whose relationship provided inspiration for the undersexed couple in the film. Lee took issue with the film's style back in 1989, but time has made him far more complimentary of Campion, both as a filmmaker and a person. -- Jonathan Doyle