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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Apr 27, 2023




‘JUNIPER’ is a family drama set in New Zealand starring British actress Charlotte Rampling who gained acclaim for such films as “The Damned” (by Visconti), “The NIght Porter” (by Cavanni), “Stardust Memories” (by Woody Allen) and “The Swimming Pool” (by Ozon).  

She was last seen in “Dune” as the Reverend Mother. Now 77 years old, she plays Ruth in “Juniper”, which is set in the 1990s. 

She used to be an accomplished  photojournalist, but she is now retired. She had a bad fall that broke her right leg.  

She leaves London to recover and joins her only son, Robert (Martin Csokas), with whom she has a strained relationship as she never revealed to Robert the identity of his father. 

Robert is a widower who lives in a farm in New Zealand with his own teenage son, Sam (New Zealand TV actor George Ferrier in his first movie role), who’s also not in the best of terms with his own father. 

Talk about mommy and daddy issues.

Sam is having problems in his boarding school and is feeling despondent after his mother died. 

He even entertains thoughts of suicide. He is at first hostile to his grandma, who he considers an intruder as he has never met her before. 

As he says, he hardly knows “the old bitch”. 

Ruth is confined to her wheelchair but she can be very sardonic, mean and cantankerous. 

She drinks gin all day and the film’s title is derived from the juniper berries which is a vital ingredient to the gin Ruth drinks.

At first, grandmother and grandson are hostile to each other, what with Robert away from them on business. Ruth has a regular nurse who is loyal to her, Sarah (Edith Poor), who traveled with her from England. 

She initially tries to patch things up between Ruth and Sam, but they’re both not ready yet. 

The well meaning Sarah even invites a priest to talk to Ruth about spiritual things and her own salvation, but Ruth is rude to him and even tries to give him money as a bribe. 

At one point, when Sam tries to dilute her gin with water, Ruth throws the glass on Sam and it hit him on his forehead.

It’s easy to predict that somehow, these two acerbic souls who are at odds with each other would eventually come to a common meeting point, but how writer-director Matthew Saville does this is not in the usual expected sentimental, sappy way of achieving reconciliation between two warring characters.

The film is about how to heal fractured family relationships. 

This can also be viewed as a coming of age story for Sam, who eventually achies some maturity in the course of the movie. 

Ms. Rampling is no longer the ravishing beauty of her youth but she remains to be a compelling actress who has not forgotten the rudiments of her craft.  

At first, her eyes have a distant look that displays her alienation from her surroundings. 

She’s not known to be an ice queen for nothing. But eventually, she defrosts and melts and even asks Sam to invite his friends to a party she will host and she even buys all the drinks for them.  

She bonds well with Sam and his barkada, drinking and smoking with them and even teaching them how to fire a hunting rifle properly that shows she is a deadshot. 

Sam eventually has a change of heart about his demanding grandma and learns to truly care for her.  

The acting of the two leads is quite impeccable. 

Ms. Rampling doesn’t disappoint in being expectedly good. 

She brings quiet gravitas to the role of the surly Ruth and effortlessly holds our attention from beginning to end. 

Even if her character is not really likeable, she manages to make Ruth charming and sympathetic. 

The look of quiet resignation that she shows as she accepts her fate towards the film’s end is truly quite touching. 

George Ferrier has matinee idol good looks and is very relatable in his debut role as a young man who is facing a lot of struggles and learning to cope with them with a hard won maturity. 

The film is directed by Saville with great compassion and insight.