Rain is the carefully textured story of a mother who fears she's losing her sexuality, the daughter just awakening to hers and the man they both look to for succor and (re)affirmation.
First-time writer-director Christine Jeffs spent four years adapting Kirsty Gunn's 1994 novel, and the care shows. Her obvious affection for the material comes through most pointedly in the sparse, evocative dialogue - speech that seems well-suited to the pristine New Zealand shores on which the story is set.
At the center of Rain is 13-year-old Janey, played with welcome awkwardness by newcomer Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki. She and her younger brother, Jim (Aaron Murphy), live what seems like a pretty idyllic existence in a seaside home built by their father.
But there's some rot at work within this family structure; their mother, Kate (Sarah Peirse), has not taken to middle age well and seems resigned to a life of excessive drinking and mindless flirtation. Their father, Ed (Alistair Browning), lives a life that can best be described as rote misery; his major activity is cutting the frontyard grass with a push mower.
Two things happen to stir up this pot. First there's Janey's adolescence, a hodgepodge of blossoming hormones that she's not sure what to do with (although she's determined not to act the least bit confused by it all). And then there's Cady (Marton Csokas), an unshaven, unkempt, unbridled fisherman-photographer who's coveted by both mother and daughter.
The cast of Rain is first-rate, especially Wierzbicki and Peirse, whose tense relationship is as loving as it is competitive. And Jeffs has fun visually delineating between the passions felt by both; while Janey has to swim out to Cady's houseboat, huffing and puffing and working hard, Kate is somehow able to walk there and back, as though the sexual reawakening for which he's responsible gives her powers (and perhaps pleasures) she had forgotten about.
Rain's deliberate pacing has its drawbacks; even with a running time of under 90 minutes, the action sometimes drags. And the ending seems both unduly harsh and somewhat off-point.
Still, the visual flair Jeffs has honed during a career directing commercials for New Zealand television results in some gorgeous, and challenging, images, pictures where every inch of the frame conveys meaning. Unlike with many of her American counterparts, whose work in commercials translates into force-feeding audiences bombastic images at breakneck speed, Jeffs practices a visual laconism that - like much of what goes on in Rain - is both relaxing and deceptive.
Starring Sarah Peirse, Martin Csokas, Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki
Written and directed by Christine Jeffs
Released by Fireworks Pictures
Unrated (mature themes, teen alcohol use, suggested sexuality)
Running time 82 minutes
Sun Score ***