Wild sensuality in Venice with 'Wuthering Heights'

6th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Lashed by the elements up on the desolate Yorkshire moors in northern England, British film director Andrea Arnold said she had felt her enchanting, dark adaptation of "Wuthering Heights" was cursed.

Fierce devotion and raw passion bind together novelist Emily Bronte's well loved characters Cathy and Heathcliff, captured by Arnold through intimate, sensual hand-held camera shots and a visceral display of the forces of nature.

"It's Gothic, feminist, socialist, sadomasochistic, Freudian, incestuous, violent and visceral. Trying to melt that into a film is an ambitious and perhaps foolish task," Arnold said about the famous novel, published in 1847.

But "even when things became very difficult I couldn't let it go", said the director of contemporary dramas "Fish Tank" and "Red Road", whose latest film will have its world premiere at the Venice film festival on Tuesday evening.

In "Wuthering Heights", a homeless boy on the streets of Liverpool -- played by Solomon Glave -- is adopted by a Yorkshire farmer and forges an obsessive relationship with his daughter Cathy, played by Shannon Beer.

Fiercely beaten by the farmer's son and family servant, the young Heathcliff remains an outsider, unable to become part of the family, finding solace only in Cathy and their wild, almost animalistic adventures in the wilderness.

Bronte's novel had "a very profound effect" on Arnold. Adapting it for film and shooting in the wilds of the moors at the mercy of the elements was "such a difficult journey, I almost feel like it's left a curse on us", she said.

"It's the hardest shoot I've ever been part of," said producer Kevin Loader.

"There was a constant awareness of wind and water, the darkness and the harshness of elements. But it brings home that kind of isolation and closeness to the natural world," he added.

While Cathy and Heathcliff are inseparable in childhood, they are torn apart with cruel consequences -- an "inescapable tragedy" which left Arnold "fretting about Heathcliff, the ultimate outsider. I wanted to make the film for him".

For her adaptation, Arnold chose to tell the tale through Heathcliff's perspective, emphasising the dark obsessions in the story.

"I got very obsessed with Heathcliff and his childhood and how brutally he was treated. It's a theme in a lot of my films," she said, adding however, that she had been frustrated not to have had more time and space to bring him peace.

While Bronte follows Heathcliff until his death, the film does not attempt to tackle the later part of the novel, leaving Heathcliff grieving and lost out on the moors, his journey "incomplete".

"He's only complete when he's dead, when he's lying next to her in the ground, but we leave him wandering. I felt bereft about leaving him unresolved," Arnold said, though she said she had no plans for a "part two".

One of the most widely-read English novels, "Wuthering Heights", has inspired countless film and television adaptations, many of which have leaned towards a romanticism, rejected by Arnold in favour of a grittier slant.

"I really wanted to honour Bronte's essence," she said. "It's a dark and profound book almost beyond comprehension. I found out yesterday that it was not supposed to be read by anyone, sort of Bronte's private diary," she added.

Instead, the film becomes Heathcliff's private diary of passion and loss, lived out against a soundtrack of thundering rain, roaring winds and the lonely tapping of a solitary branch against the window of an empty room.

"Nature can be both beautiful and comforting but also brutal, selfish, furious and destructive. We are part of it, we are animals. Heathcliff is a force of nature," Arnold said.

"We are all of us animals. I think we might all be Heathcliff," she said.

© 2011 AFP

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