26 September 2023


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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

Screenwriter/director: Matthew J. Saville, Transmission Films.

This is a personality-driven production with an impressive performance from Oscar-nominated actress Charlotte Rampling, with New Zealand newcomer George Ferrier making a noticeable mark.

On returning home from boarding school, a self-destructive teenager discovers his gin-soaked grandmother has moved in. A battle of wills ensues which enables him to embrace life again, and her to face her own mortality. Some complex adult themes are explored in intricate family situations.

Rampling (The Verdict, Stardust Memories, Farewell, My Lovely) won the Berlin Film Festival Award for Best Actress, the European Film Award for Best Actress and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in 45 Years.

In Juniper, she plays Ruth, a stubborn, hard-drinking woman who lands in New Zealand from England after her son Robert (Marton Csokas, The Debt, The Equalizer) decides to bring her there to recuperate after breaking her leg. There is a secondary motive, however, as he believes she might be helpful to his unruly teenage son, Sam (Ferrier), who is still grieving the death of his mother several months earlier. The 17-year-old has been on a self-destructive spiral that could lead to his death, and he has been thrown out of boarding school.

At first, Sam rebels at the idea of giving up his room to the grandmother he has never known. He also does not relish the idea of being even a part-time caretaker. Nevertheless, Sam and Ruth find they are well matched by a certain dark view of life, and the rapport that they come to share surprises them both.

Exchanges between Sam and Ruth are well-written as we gradually learn she once had a celebrated career as a war photographer. Her “anger at the narrowing of her once-expansive world has led to the fury that she vents toward most of the people in her life, while she displays a sardonic sense of humour and indulges an appetite for alcohol. (The juniper berries that dot the landscape happen to be the primary ingredient in Ruth’s drink” of choice – gin.)

Saville shows a decent feel for character and makes a point of steering clear of melodramatics. The film is inspired by the director’s life story: Ruth is an amalgamation of his grandmother (who moved from Europe) and some of the great war journalists of the time, like Martha Gellhorn.

  • Juniper is in cinemas nationally from 4 August 2022

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