My Brilliant Career (1979)
User ReviewsAdd a Review
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!
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."
It is a funny, yet serious movie, that has some deep undertones.
I would recommend watching it.
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
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.....
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.
In the end I didn't get the main character because her behavior didn't make a lot of sense to me. If Sam Neill's character was an idiot I would understand, but he was about as perfect for Davis' character as she could ever hope for & her "career" didn't seem like much of a lifestyle......so her actions left me perplexed.
Still, the movie was well done & the scenery was interesting. It kept me engaged until the end....however, when the final credits rolled I was left scratching my head.
The support of the story, which is Davis's struggle to be independent of society's taming and manipulation is what is ultimately compelling and infuriating, very effectively putting us in her mad, aggressive shoes. The framework involving the attraction between her and Neill is what is ultimately moving and hearty. That is what this film supplies a solvency of, a fiery emotional experience.
The movie My Brilliant Career takes place on the Austrailan frontier, in the year 1909. The story is about this one girl Named Sybylla(played by Judy Davis) who had been living on a farm with her relitives after her mother died. she is forced to live with her uncle when the farm dries up in the drought. Sybylla's Relitives have no way to support them selves so they have to make her live with her uncle. Her uncle is a rich realastate owner and overall he is a really good man, he often laughs at the things that Sybylla does because she is out of the ordenary, compared to the other women that live in the house. While she lives with her uncle she learns about her mother. Sybylla feels that she will never be able to be like her mother who she adores. Sybylla's relitives say that her mother maid a mistake by marrieing for love. Sybylla then meets a man named Harry(played bye the vary young Sam Neill) From the First part where we see Harry we know that the two are going to be together. Threw the movie the two have struggles. Harry and Sybylla want two different things in life. Harry wants love with Sybylla. And Sybylla dosent want to be a normal house wife, she wants to be a writer at all cost. The to together make a deal, in two years when Sybylla knows what she is doing in life she will marry Harry. Two years comes and Sybylla knows what she wants to do but she cant do it being Harrys wife. They are bolth inlove with each other witch makes the story so hard to grasp that this is a love story where the two charicters don't end up having eachother. I liked this movie because the ideal was real. At the end of the movie we find out that Sybylla publishes her book. The ending Scene is my favroite. Sybylla is leaning up against her fence and we find out her book was published. She stands alone looking into the distance. Then it hits us what her uncles wife said to her earlyer in the movie. "lonleyness is a terrible price to pay for independence".
Perhaps most impressive is the screenplay, which greatly improves on what turned out to be a good novel so dated that it is all the more amazing that anyone ever thought to make it into a film. The musical score was also a delight.
Most confusing to me is that it has taken so long for it to be released on home video. A major addition to any thinking film-goer's home library.
Its lost a little something revisiting it after all these years. While it's feminist ideals are inspiring and handled with complexity, there's a certain lack of emotion to it. We don't really get the deep bitter-sweetness of choosing loneliness over loss of self.
Also, that the film forces that choice seems a bit disingenuous. Nothing about Sam Neil's character that suggests he would repress our heroine – indeed he clearly loves her for the free spirit she is. To really have her need to make an either/or decision 'work' we'd need to go further into the relationship and her psychology.
Last, a number of the supporting roles tend towards clichés about both the upper and lower class. And that oversimplifying takes something away from the complex character Davis builds.
But all that said, there are beautiful images and magical moments. It just didn't quite hold up to my memories of first seeing it 30 years ago. But if you've never seen it, you still certainly should.
The visual and aural elements of this film create a parallel to the textual narrative. Warm, vivid colors represent hope and freedom; darker hues signify repression. The piano solos, which at first were discordant and haunted, put themselves in tune as things begin to look up for this character. Composition also reflects Sybylla's conflict; in one scene, her aunt sits between her and Harry (Neill), each character figuratively and visual separated by vertical columns.
Sentimentality aside, the cast provides strong performances, especially from Davis and Neill. Their chemistry is present right from the start. Davis steals the film, and rightly so, especially when she is called to be a governess for a poorer family. As she attempts to gain the attention of the farm children, we see that her view towards this family echoes the upper-class perception of a girl such as herself.
Armstrong touches heavily on freedom of the spirit; although this could be considered a love story, the love between Sybylla and Harry is never completely reconciled. The film's last shot does bring closure, however, to Sybylla's struggle throughout the film. The open range that surrounds her, bathed in sunset radiance, signifies her rejection of societal repression. She is finally aware of the myriad possibilities open to a heart of determination.
First of all, the cinematography is stunning. The movie captures the immense beauty of Australia. Judy Davis at times is dreadful to look at, and then classically beautiful. I notice how similar Judy Davis's acting is to Nicole Kidman's, and I wonder if Kidman considers Davis to be a role model.
But the plot rang hollow with me, this time round. It did not sit well with me. Sybylla found a good man who truly loved her, and waited for her, and he was good looking and wealthy. She seemed to love him. It hung on me, why could Sybylla not have her brilliant career and the man? Sybylla was a tease. She wanted the attention, but was disgusted when she got it.
I was further confused when I realized the director Gillian Armstrong also directed "Little Women" (another one of my favorite movies). Jo/Louisa May had a brilliant career, and was married, some fifty years earlier, and yet Sybylla/Miles felt she could not have the career and the marriage. My 14 year old son said "the answer is easy mom, she was a lesbian"! LOL I nearly fell out of my chair. At that point I HAD to look up to see if Miles Franklin was indeed a lesbian, and I think it is agreed upon that she did have a lesbian affair. It seemed to me to that the career was the excuse she used to not marry.
If you like romantic period pieces you will like this movie. I am glad I saw it as an idealist young girl.
I liked what I saw of the cinematography, but was not able to appreciate it fully because I saw the film on and old VHS copy, and only about half the frame is there. Judy Davis's performance is quite charming, and I do see the Nicole Kidman similarities in this role, it is mostly in the eyes.
I cannot really tell you how this film measures up to the book, not having read it, but what what I can tell you is that "My Brilliant Career" has a fantastic pillow fight sequence, one of the best that I have seen in any film. Watch it just for this if nothing else.
PS Nicole Kidman looks just like Judy Davis does in this movie.
Gil Armstrong's direction is outstanding, as is the lovely photography and production design. The sacrifice necessary for embarking on a career is emotionally realized, and it is made clear such work must be done alone. The artists' life is that of freedom to work and bring forth the creative spark within. When it comes to women at the turn of the 20th century, such a choice isn't easy. The film movingly dramatizes this, along with the status (and plight) of women in general.
While it's lovely to hear the theme from Schumann's "Scenes from Childhood," the number of repetitions did tend to become redundant. Otherwise, the musical score is quite effective.
A thoughtful, touching film, most beautifully realized.