• Festivals

Alice Englert’s “Bad Behaviour” at the Sydney Film Festival

The irony was not lost on Alice Englert – writer, director and star of the dark comedy Bad Behaviour – that her Sydney Film Festival premiere was taking place within the same program that featured a film retrospective devoted to her mother, Jane Campion. “It does feel kind of insane,” Englert told the Sydney Morning Herald of the festival’s family affair. “But I love all of mum’s movies, so I’m really excited to see them again.”

At only 28, it seems almost fated that the soft-spoken daughter of one of the great female filmmakers of our time would have already tried her own hand at directing a feature film. When Jane Campion won her Oscar for best original screenplay for The Piano in 1994, she was pregnant with Englert and, as she grew up on her mother’s sets, it seemed inevitable Englert would find her own way in the film industry.

In 2006, Campion recruited her daughter and best friend to be in The Water Diary, a short film she directed as part of the UN anthology series, 8, and Englert began directing short films, also building an impressive list of TV acting credits, including Top of the Lake: China Girl (2017, directed by Campion), The Serpent (2021), Ratched (2020), Dangerous Liaisons (2022) and the film, Beautiful Creatures (2013).

Bad Behaviour stars Jennifer Connelly as Lucy, a former child actor trying to resolve some of her traumas by attending a therapeutic sanctuary in Oregon run by new-age guru Elon (Ben Whishaw). Before going on the grid, she checks in with her stunt-performing daughter Dylan (Englert), who is shooting a film in New Zealand and experiencing her own emerging trauma. While mother and daughter don’t unite on screen together until more than halfway through the film, their relationship is at the heart of the film as they look for mutual support and confront the realities of that dysfunctional relationship.


The Sundance-selected film finds a balance between satire and sincerity that could suggest she’s making fun of the spiritual environment of retreats. But at the packed post-film Q&A – with Campion up front proudly applauding – Englert makes a surprising confession.

“I’ve been to quite a few (retreats) and the reason is that I actually love retreats, and I kind of believe all they’re saying. I just think it is such a unique way to find yourself and your story when you need to hear it to understand who you are, so I wanted to get very specific about what that would look like for Lucy.”

Englert quickly adds that her film is “completely fictional”, and she never used any real retreat experiences as film fodder. “I wouldn’t do that to people,” she adds, “as it’s too vulnerable and beautiful and sacred that you can say how you feel in those moments, and you’d never want to betray that.”

Not surprisingly, media have focused on the relationship between mother and daughter in the film, suggesting some of it may be based on Englert’s own relationship with her mother. She told the Sydney Morning Herald: “I understand that people are going to bring up (my mom) for the rest of my life – I get it, I’m interested in my mum and myself as well – but my aim is not to make work about my actual life, because I want to have that feel private. But I do want to make things that I have at least some intimate knowledge of, so I’m not just talking out of my ass, you know?”

As if all that comparison pressure isn’t enough, Englert doubled down by convincing her mother to film a small cameo as a nurse. “It was cute,” she tells the Q&A audience. “She came out of her room and was like, ‘I’m nervous’ but it was one scene, and it was over so quickly we didn’t have a lot of time to think too much about it.”