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Gillian Armstrong's valentine to Miles Franklin's classic novel is one of the most beautiful movies ever made, and my personal favorite to watch over and over again. The photography is brilliant and Judy Davis delivers and unforgettable performance. She really takes you inside the head and soul of a very complex character who is alienated, fascinated, and bemused by the role she has been given to play in life. Every mother should show this movie to her teenage daughter. It may be the last chance you have to laugh together.
My mother took me to see this film when I was ten, the year before she
It changed my entire perspective on the world, set me free from the
constraints of fairy tales and inspired me to do something worthwhile with
my life (write). I've seen it a few times since then, and found it
in pace with my understanding.
Apparently Judy Davis didn't like this character or sympathize with her. All I can say is that I'm glad she went ahead and took the role anyway. Sybylla is like Cinderella with a twist worthy of M. Night Shymalan.
The film is sometimes beautiful and lyrical, sometimes depressing and ugly. At all times it is believable because the forces driving Sybylla transcend time and place: creativity and independence. This film taught me that a gilded cage is still a cage.
Even twenty odd years after I first saw it, this film makes me want to cheer. Gillian Armstrong, if you're out there, thank you!
Judy Davis, as Sybylla Melvin, struggles with the conflicts that we all have between ambition, family, love, and guilt in a most remarkable manner. Sybylla grows to understand that life is a series of trade-offs, and that no one can have it all, and that no one can please everyone. Simple yet universal themes told with charm, wit, and a vulnerability that allows us to get right inside of her character and to understand her --- up to a point that is, a career is vital but I don't believe I'd have the strength to pass up Sam Neill under any circumstances, especially as cute as he is in this movie. In fact, all the acting is great, and the cinematography is breathtaking. Gillian Armstrong has been my idol ever since she made this magnificent film. I give it a 10.
Judy Davis is Sybylla, a girl of the Australian outback around 1909. As
portrayed by Davis, in her breakthrough role, Sybylla is a font of
energy wanting desperately to escape the backwardness of her young life.
Sam Neill, also in one of the significant early roles of his career, is
likewise charming as the young man who presents her with a tempting
alternative to her ambition to become a writer and escape the frontier life
This is not a great or epic story, certainly, but it is a quiet, rewarding story of a young woman's quest for a better life. A worthy entry among the films that marked the ascendancy of the "Australian Renaissance" in film-making during the 1970s; director Armstrong would go on to make such films as "Mrs. Soffel" and the 1994 "Little Women."
I watched this movie expecting to be bored stiff, but was pleasantly surprised! This genre of film-making I usually find no interest in, but this one proved to be different. It was well written, well directed, very well acted, and the chemistry between the players was incredible! Very rarely do I view a movie that has a perfect combination of actors, and this was one. Judy Davis and Sam Neill were incredible together, and I'm happy to say they would be in two other films together after this one. Everything about this movie was wonderful. It's just too bad it ends when it does. I found myself very interested in the characters, and wanted to know what became of each. My only qualm with the movie is that it ended too fast! I would definitely have to call this a favorite! That's how good this movie is!
Sometimes a life in film brings an experience like this. Its oddly
tense in some dimensions and relaxed in others and the balance between
the two seems distinctly Australian. I hadn't seen this when it was
new, and I'm glad. Seeing a great film for the first time is a distinct
I can think of only two similar pleasures in life.
Reviewers often focus on the story; its the common currency for discussion. The interesting fact behind the power of this movie is that the story is incoherent, poorly developed. There are a few main characters and none of them are attached to what are considered necessities for storytelling. They aren't introduced, we see them only through the effect of their presence. They don't develop. They influence nothing.
The main character is presented as a sort of Jane Austen both an Austen woman encouraged to marry, and Austen herself as a sort of author-in-her-own-book, like we saw in the 1999 film of Mansfield Park. But the odd thing is that we have Austen in Australia, the role and all the expectations without the baroque mechanics of society swirling around. Instead we get cows and sheep.
And emptiness, a cinematic vastness that even the US hasn't yet produced, despite Terence Malick.
So the incompleteness of the story is part of the genius of the thing. Our heroine doesn't have an Austenian future, instead becomes a backcountry Louisa May Alcott or George Sand. Indeed, Davis did go on to play Sand and Anderson went on to direct "Little Women." What our filmmaker has done is create a story where we subconsciously notice something is missing. And then she fills it with two things, this translucent actress and a similarly translucent open landscape.
First the landscape. Watch the opening of this. Its genius, shooting from outside in, peering in through windows and doors while we see literally the story beginning to be written. Then we shoot from the inside through the same windows out and see a dust tempest beginning.
This notion of space, inadequate enclosure, book and heroine conflated into them and weaving through them was copied after a fashion in the opening for the 2005 "Pride and Prejudice." Here, it is fresh, original, shocking. Effective, even life-affirming.
You can see a similar master vision in how the ending is shaped. We see our woman, a best friend by this time, going to mail her book to us. She approaches the fence and her dog scurries under, unconstrained by fences. Its a small thing, but by then we've become aware of how wonderfully our hidden woman behind the camera has shaped everything so minutely. That dog moves under the gate naturally, using a gait and hole that can only have come through hundreds of such exits. I have no idea how Anderson did it.
And now to Ms. Davis. Over time you pick things from the film vocabulary that you cleave to, things that naturally tip into the bucket of your soul. One of these for me is a certain type of folded acting I've noticed in Australian actresses. Blanchett, Winslet are the ones I follow deeply.
But you can see it here and I imagine that this is the first appearance of the style in a competent film. In my own historiography, Judy Davis invented it and does so here. If you watch her manner, you can see Cate. The style is what I call folded, where we get both the character and a higher level communication from the actor about the character.
We have a few folded actresses. What's even rarer is when the actress is intelligent and skilled enough to place that higher fold in the center of the filmmaker's intention. It happens here. Its beautiful, on a simpler level echoing the fact that we see a book, its making, and various considerations about the making of the book.
Because it is this sort of translucent folding, we see Cate when we see Judy.
You won't soon forget that.
I'm putting this on my list of films you really must see. Readers may be shocked. I only allow myself two from any given years and this year gave us "Alien," "Apocalypse Now," "Manhattan," and "Tree of Wooden Clogs," all of which are bumped by this. But this will change you, a female Herzog, unHerzog.
Now if I can only see "High Tide."
Ted's Evaluation -- 4 of 3: Every cineliterate person should experience this.
Usually I'm not too interested in these kinds of films, but i found myself
becoming involved in the characters and their lives. The movie was very
well done, and it explores many of the social gender roles that are still
It is a funny, yet serious movie, that has some deep undertones.
I would recommend watching it.
I just bought the Australian DVD release of My Brilliant Career. All I
can say it was worth every penny.
I don't need to go into the specifics of the plot. There are plenty of comments listed on IMDb already. But the peformances, by then new and upcoming actors Judy Davis and Sam Neill, are beautifully timeless!! It's everything I'd hoped for and more. It just gets better with repeated viewings.
Made on a shoestring budget by new director Gillian Armstrong, the commentary provided by her on the recently released Australian DVD in widescreen is a real treat to listen to! You'll chuckle at the stories she tells on how cast and crew achieved what you see on screen when little or no money was left in the budget. And you'll realize how lucky and fortunate Armstrong and producer Margaret Fink were at landing Judy Davis to play Sybylla.
My Brilliant Career is currently out-of-print in the USA. Don't know why, but currently a DVD is out in Australia and the UK only. If only the Criterion Collection would select this film for a DVD release in the USA.....
The previous comment suggested fast-forwarding through the movie to the
denouement. If you do this you will lack a true understanding of just
how important the choices made in the end are to the character Sybylla.
Unless you watch a movie in its entirety you cannot say you have truly seen the movie. A movie may also move at a pace that you are not used to and the pace of a specific film is chosen for a reason. If the viewer stops to think about just why the final cut moved at that pace he or she may glean something quite important about that particular film.
Beauty is in the eye of beholder. Australia does not possess (in the area where this movie was filmed) bold colors and subtlety was what was wont for this film.
I rated it quite highly for many reasons including Judy Davis' acting, the strength with which the director was able to convey its message, the strong supporting cast, the exquisite shots (particularly in their composition) often lengthy in duration that so wonderfully show what action/adventure films cannot including again subtlety, nuance and the ability to make the viewer actually think-both during and for long after the film is viewed
Watching this film made me think of what a strong character Sybylla is. In a time when doing something like trying to have a career, as a woman, was basically not done we are introduced to someone who is so head strong that she doesn't care what anyone says. One thing that I really enjoyed about this movie is the relationship between Sybylla and Harry Beecham because of the way it was presented. Usually a love relationship in a film is something that is just expected after one interaction, the audience should just know that since we see these two characters together they are now in love, nothing that you see actually develop on screen with multiple encounters and a progress of feelings. I felt like a huge part of this story was the development of the Harry/Sybylla connection. It's obvious early in the film that she cares for no one else, when she throws the flowers given to her by Frank in the river we see she has no intention of giving him a second thought. We see through the numerous encounters with these two that they both have very strong feelings for the other and it is finally revealed when he proposes to her. She takes this offer very seriously but realizes that if she is to be true to herself she cannot accept his offer. This hurts both of them very much and we can see that when she is teaching the family that her father is indebted to and she is not able to write him a letter. When he shows up at her family's farm two years later and re-offers his proposal it is another account of just how much she means to him. When she declines again it is for her reasons and for her career that she is not able to accept. I think that this is a great characteristic of her in this film and helps to make the point of how she is such a strong willed woman who will not settle for less then what she knows she is capable of.
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