It’s a good time to be a Charlotte Rampling fan – but then again, it often is. In the past year alone, the 76-year-old actress has achieved far and wide success: she was the best thing ever in Francois Ozon’s assisted-d*ath drama Everything Went Fine, Paul Verhoeven’s Granite Abbess as a p*ker face. There was a face scream. Benedetta, and the blood-curdling high priestess in Denis Villeneuve’s Dune.
“Our plans are measured in centuries,” he memorably says in the third of them – and one would have hoped that, with all three of these elective roles changing, a major protagonist would arrive much sooner than that. Eleven months later, something similar happens – albeit in a film that proves too weak to support it.
In this decidedly low-key New Zealand drama, Rampling plays Ruth, a retired war photographer who has moved from her home in England to the countryside outside Auckland with her semi-estranged son Robert (Martin Soukas). goes to K’s house, supposedly to recuperate. From a broken leg. A live-in nurse (Edith Poore) is on the way, but until she comes home the only other soul is Robert’s depressed 17-year-old son Sam (George Ferrier), who is less than happy to see her turn to his grandmother for attention. To respond to repeated calls, barking commands, and keeping the old girl up with the gin.
Suspended from school and grieving the recent d*ath of his mother, Sam needs to move on and straighten up – and Ruth, no one’s idea of a life coach, turns out to be the unlikely woman for the job.
Wait, not likely? Predict it blindly. In the ensuing battle of wills, Ruth stubbornly breaks out of her grandson’s sadness, while the boy’s coming out of that shell brings her some strange joy in return. But their relationship develops like it’s mapped out in a screenwriting manual, and from the moment one takes a memorable trip to watch the sun rise over the nearby hills, its end point is never in doubt. lived
For a film ostensibly rooted in writer-director Matthew J. Saville’s own experiences, Juniper often feels oddly impersonal and thinly sketched. Still, Rampling is a force of painfully compelling nature, rising from her chair against the dying light. Like the berries that dot the hillsides and flavor his favorite nook, he’s peppery, pungent and evergreen.
15 Certificate, 94 min. In cinemas from Friday
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