Sunday, November 28, 2021

Jane Campion's “The Power of the Dog” at Landmark Theatres: Nov 24 - Dec 16

Returning with her first movie in 12 years, the Australian filmmaker who brought us into the abyssal darkness of "Top of the Lake", and it's sequel, "Top of the Lake: China Girl", now ventures into the American West and the inner worlds of Thomas Savage. Adapting his novel of the same name, "The Power of the Dog", brings viewers deep "Inside Jane Campion’s Cinema of Tenderness and Brutality". In preparation for her newest exploration of the outer realms of the human psyche, she returned multiple times to the New Zealand mountain range she had chosen as a location, and went to visit the Montana ranches where Thomas Savage himself grew up. Campion sent Benedict Cumberbatch to Montana as well, as a process of getting into the skin of the character to learn roping, riding, horseshoeing, whittling, banjo and cattle wrangling. In a turn from the varied, whimsical, charismatic eccentrics on which Cumberbatch has built his career, here he stars as a determined, viciously self-made, hypermasculine rancher by the name of Phil Burbank. A recent set of roles outside his more common parameters have brought out greatness in the actor, as detailed in interview with The New York Times, "Benedict Cumberbatch and the Monsters Among Us". For Campion, a decade into her life as a filmmaker, her 1993 film "The Piano" won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and became one of that era's zeitgeist defining cinema experiences. In the years since she has become the most decorated living female filmmaker, producing a body of work that is both ethereal and intensely physical, establishing herself as an auteur with a corpus in the lineage of Luis Buñuel, François Truffaut and Pedro Almodóvar.

"The Piano" offered a blueprint of Campion's creative preoccupations; the feminine entangling and confronting the masculine in exchanges of heightened violence and desire, vast and often beautiful landscapes to evoke psychological states, and individuals struggling against societal and personal constraints in their pursuit of love above the teetering precipice of alienation and betrayal. Campion read Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel for pleasure, not thinking initially of adapting it for film, but the story stayed with her. “I couldn’t stop thinking about the themes in the book,” she told Sofia Coppola at the New York Film Festival this year. The material is ideally suited to her sensibilities, and even further enriched by this dichotomy of tenderness and brutality on which the New York Times interview focuses. Tenderness and it's dark reflection drive the drama of "The Power of the Dog", made that much more raw by the unforgiving vastness of the landscapes outside the rough-hewn pioneering homes and small towns that offer shelter and a vestige of far-off civilization. Campion has said that she wanted to make work about what “has always been on those margins of what’s acceptable … what we as wild creatures really are, as distinct from what society wants us to buy into.” This is especially true in “The Power of the Dog,” where these contradictory forces amplify each other painfully. Campion's art has been in showing the unpredictable mix of wounding damage and nurturing care in human activity, and in the moment of opening to one, it can lead to the possibility of the other. This is also one of the great achievements of her newest film. In the same soil where the beginning of an interwoven security of family has been formed, a seed of violence and resentment has already sprouted something much deeper, darker and malign, “'The Power of the Dog': Jane Campion’s Superb Gothic Western is Mysterious and Menacing”.