Two Friends

Before Jane Campion began making lumbering big-budget films about mute pianists and Henry James heroines, she gained a well-deserved critical reputation for her complex character studies of troubled young women (Sweetie, An Angel At My Table). Two Friends, her 1986 debut, finally makes its video premiere, and it's one of the best examples of her early craft. It's the story of two young girls and their friendship's dissolution, told in a reverse chronology, from the last sputtering hope that the girls might reconcile to a dizzyingly happy moment in their lives nine months earlier. That's hardly a novel structure anymore, but Campion and screenwriter Helen Garner put it to surprisingly effective use here. Garner is smart enough to create a series of backwards episodes that focus on psychological continuity instead of plot threads; that's a choice that answers most of the important questions about who the characters are, while still leaving intriguing loose threads between episodes. And Campion is skillful enough to squeeze both realism and poignancy out of almost every scene with her strong ensemble of actors. Two Friends was originally produced for Australian television, presumably inexpensively, and although some restoration work has been conducted for its video release, the soundtrack is still far from ideal. Since this flaw is coupled with subtle dialogue spoken in Australian accents, some viewers may find Two Friends difficult to follow at times. But if you stick with it, it's well worth the effort.

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