'Rain' shimmers as 13-year-old flirts with womanhood

Christine Jeffs' feature debut, in its unwavering gaze at female adolescence, is reminiscent of the dreamy, waiting quality of the girls in Sofia Coppola's "The Virgin Suicides." Even more closely, it recalls Joyce Chopra's 1985 film "Smooth Talk," in which Laura Dern played a restless teen whose exploration of sexuality turned tragic. All of these films achingly conveyed that flickering phase of young adulthood, when both child and woman can be seen in the same wistful face.

In "Rain," set in 1972 New Zealand, 13-year-old Janey (Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki) is spending the summer at the seaside with her mother, father and little brother Jim (Aaron Murphy, in an enchantingly natural performance). Bored, Janey passes time by playing with Jim and warily eyeing her parents' disintegrating marriage — and Cady, the handsome photographer with whom her mother Kate (Sarah Peirse) begins a flirtation.

Not much happens in "Rain" until the end, and that feels right: We often see Janey just gazing at the horizon, as if waiting for something to appear there. Meanwhile, she tries on her mother's grown-up mannerisms with Cady, just as she tries on her discarded dresses and lipstick. Fulford-Wierzbicki gets Janey's too-bright smile and quiet gaze just right — she's old enough to want to lose her innocence, but young enough to misunderstand the dangerous waters in which she's rowing.

Part of the key to "Rain" is in its title — although no rain falls during this languid summer, it's a metaphor for change, for the washing away of something that may not return. Although the film's final tragedy feels a bit forced — is Janey being punished? — the film remains a shimmeringly lovely coming-of-age portrait, shot in artful, watery tones of blue, green and brown.

"Everything's in front of you now, not me," says Kate to Janey at one point, holding her daughter tightly as if she might slip away. Earlier, we've seen a lovely shot of an ice cube falling through the blue water; like Janey's childhood, it's slowly and irrevocably disappearing.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.


With Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki, Sarah Peirse, Marton Csokas, Alistair Browning, Aaron Murphy. Written and directed by Christine Jeffs, based on a novel by Kirsty Gunn. 92 minutes. Not rated; suitable for mature audiences (contains sexuality and brief nudity). Varsity.