Jane Campion hadn’t directed a movie in 12 years. An eternity for a woman who opened doors and broke barriers in cinema in recent decades. She was the first to win the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with The piano, and until this year, when Julia Ducournau achieved it for Titane, it was the only one. Hollywood did not forgive her for not bending to any mold, and after premiering a film as provocative and revolutionary as raw meat (2003), the industry turned its back on him. That work —which reformulated a hypermasculinized genre like the thriller erotic from the point of view of female pleasure—was crushed by a macho critic who only spoke of the complete nudity of its protagonist, a Meg Ryan who until then was the princess of Hollywood and who sacrificed her career.
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An industry that allows a fundamental author of recent cinema to go more than a decade without shooting – with the exception of a series – should rethink many things. It has been Netflix who has given Campion a blank check to return. She has done great. the power of the dog —adapted from the Thomas Savage novel— is his best film since The piano. A film that since it passed through the Venice Festival, where it won the Silver Lion for Best Director, has won all the possible awards. It is the film that has received the most awards in the pre-Oscar race and it is the film that should sweep the Hollywood Academy Awards on March 27.
the power of the dog is by far the best film of the ten Oscar nominees. The gurus of the prizes in the USA speak of a possible sorpasso of CODAthe classic well-intentioned film that gets the Academy to end up voting with the heart instead of with the head. We have experienced it in recent years. Green Book won to Romeand the shape of water was imposed on the invisible thread and Call me by your name. It would be an injustice. Campion’s film is a work destined to endure.
Through this story of two brothers (cowboys in Montana in 1925) whose relationship is shaken by the arrival of a woman and, above all, her son, Campion builds a review of the western. Campion’s gaze has always sought to deconstruct genres and topics, but has usually focused on female desire. On the power of the dog It is the first time that he focuses his story on men. She does it to bring down toxic masculinity, but also to turn upside down a genre —the western— constructed from a heteropatriarchal imaginary.
In Western movies there is only one kind of man. Handsome, brave, and very, very masculine. He’s the kind of man Phil Burbank has learned to be, the character played by Benedict Cumberbatch in a complex, restrained, detailed performance that should win Will Smith an Oscar. Phil has hidden his desire, his way of being and behaving to fulfill what is expected of a cowboy. He too has learned to oppress women. An inherited misogyny, embedded in society and that he deploys with his brother’s new wife. It is when he meets her son that everything explodes. It is in him that he sees the reflection of what he was, of who they did not let him be. An androgynous boy, with a different sexuality. A sensitive teenager, who doesn’t walk like a cowboy and who doesn’t even wear cowboy boots, but rather pristine white sneakers unsuitable for walking on earth.
Campion looks at the relationship between the two of them. A relationship that travels between the sick, the sensual and the strategic. A relationship in which power is not always where the viewer thinks. the power of the dog it could have been an obvious work, underlined. Even a love story, a simple imitation of Brokeback Mountain, but Jane Campion builds her story with increasing tension, paying attention to the details, avoiding the explicit and wrapping everything with an aesthetic that ranges from the homoerotic to the thriller sordid.
the power of the dog proves once again that no one in Hollywood rolls bodies like Jane Campion. An approach to the physical that links her to another author such as Claire Denis, whose way of capturing the male body in Beau Travail marked a before and after in 1999. The arrival of Benedict Cumberbatch at his secret hiding place, which he accesses through a tree, like an Alice entering her wonderland, unleashes one of the best scenes in the anus. Campion adopts the gaze of Phil Burbank and rolls the naked men’s bodies into the lake with stunning beauty. He then shows his character masturbating, thinking of those men. It’s the scene where we first see Phil showing himself for who he really is, and Campion does so with masterful intelligence and subtlety.
In this game of power and counterpower, Campion’s use of all narrative elements is essential. From the excellent soundtrack by Jonny Greenwood, which he is capable of creating tension with just four chords, to the immense photography by Ari Wegner. Wegner should become the first woman to win an Oscar. Never has a woman won in this category, just as never before has a woman managed to be nominated twice for Best Direction. It is another achievement of Campion, that she has not only left the western shivering, but that she is not afraid to face those who accuse her of being an intruder.
This is the case of actor Sam Elliot, who a few weeks ago said that he thought Campion had no idea about “the American West.” “Everyone walks around with chaps and no shirt. There are a ton of allusions to homosexuality throughout the fucking movie,” he added. 15 years ago, Jane Campion would surely have kept quiet. Not now. The industry has changed, and she has responded forcefully. “Sorry, he’s been a bit of a jerk. He is not a cowboy, he is an actor. The west is a mythical space and there is a lot of space on the ranch. I think he’s been a little bit sexist,” she said before winning the Directors Guild Award for her work on the film. Elliot’s words demonstrate why a film like dog power, which tells all those cowboys in Texas that their masculinity is from another era. That is why Jane Campion must win everything, because we cannot afford another 12 years without a film by a fundamental author to understand recent cinema.