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Tuesday
Feb 15 2011

Love Scenes: An Ode to St. Valentine

AndreasfromPussy Goes Grrrhere,providing one more love scene to close out Valentine's Day.

The opening credits sequence of Peter Weir'sPicnic at Hanging Rocktakes place,fittingly enough,exactly 111 years ago.To the tune of Gheorghe Zamfir's doleful panpipe,the pupils of Appleyard College in late-Victorian Australia rush around,preparing for their Valentine's Day excursion—washing their faces,tying on corsets,brushing their hair,and in one special case,declaring their undying love through poetry.

The poet is Sara (Margaret Nelson),an introverted orphan who feels a deep but ill-fated love for her achingly beautiful classmate Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert),a girl later compared by a teacher to "a Botticelli angel."Sara's affections may be obsessive and naïve,most likely stemming from both her loneliness and the lure of Miranda's divine,ethereal beauty,but they manifest themselves in a long,painfully sincere poem she calls "An Ode to St.Valentine,"which contains lines like these:

I love thee not because thou art fair,
softer than down,smoother than air,
nor for the cupids that do lie
in either corner of thine eye.
Wouldst thou then know what it might be?
'Tis I love thee 'cause thou lovest me.

Miranda reads it aloud from a card while Sara gazes out into space and swoons.Then,as the morning progresses,Russell Boyd's camera drifts around the girls' rooms,across a sea of blond hair and white nightgowns.It's an entrancing sequence that,by focusing so heavily on Sara's intense,unreciprocated love,sets up the longing and anguished curiosity that drive the film after Miranda and three other girls disappear at Hanging Rock.

Poor Sara never has a chance.Miranda is just too mystical and airy of a creature to stay in this world,and Sara never learns to follow her instructions: "You must learn to love someone else apart from me,Sara.I won't be here much longer."She waves Miranda goodbye as the carriage drives off and never sees her again,then spends the rest of the film pining for her before meeting a tragic fate.

But Sara,in that quiet,wispy opening sequence,is still there to remind us of what love can be like in adolescence,before we're mature enough to know what's wise or appropriate.She may not be mature and she may not be a great poet,but at the very least,Sara is a romantic.

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Reader Comments (4)

If you're going to compare anyone to a Botticelli angel,it may as well be Miranda in "Picnic at Hanging Rock".What a movie!

February 15,2011 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

I'm happy that there's a sudden surge of interest in this movie again post Jacki Weaver's new fame.It's so haunting and the beginning is very special,as described here.

these two are a bit like the heavenly creatures duo albeit less requited and much less violent

February 15,2011 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Whoa,that horse got F*CKED UP SON!!!

February 15,2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlex BBats

Nathaniel --

While rewatching this part,I did skip ahead to check out some of Jacki Weaver's scenes.Unfortunately,her role is very small,and she's mostly relegated to delivering expository dialogue about the girls and the school,but she still makes nice work of it,and as always her face is fascinating to watch.

And the Heavenly Creatures comparison did occur to me while writing this,since I love both movies.What is it with the South Pacific and schoolgirls being in obsessive,all-consuming relationships?

February 15,2011 | Registered CommenterAndreas

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