No other art form can fill the past with as much life as cinema, and that is exactly where Jane Campion is a master. There aren’t many female directing stars, she’s definitely been one of them since she made “Das Piano” in 1993. Her new film was eagerly awaited for a long time – she last shot “Bright Star” (2009) for the cinema, and with “The Power of the Dog” she is now setting an accent on the first weekend of the Venice Film Festival. With a surprise: she may obviously no longer be responsible for describing women’s lives. This time she has explored a man’s soul.
Your film is set at the end of the Wild West, the brothers Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) and George (Jesse Plemons) run a ranch. Phil is a macho who makes life difficult for others; George has a more sensitive disposition and woos the widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst), but Phil can’t stop tormenting her and her son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), whom he doesn’t find manly enough.
Between her last film and this one lies “Me Too”, and Campion said in Venice that this moment is “for women like the fall of the Berlin Wall or the end of apartheid”. Those are harsh words, and as much as “The Power of the Dog” is about the longing for love and feeling in the fingertips: The harshness with which the macho is met is then again oppressive, and the underdog who has defended himself in a very nasty way is also to be feared. Phil is just pretending to be macho anyway, and maybe she’s getting this: that in the fight for justice you always have to be careful not to be unjust yourself.
Campion stayed true to himself with “The Power of the Dog” – the textures of the objects and clothes are central in her films. Once Phil is seen trying to replace the touch he is missing with a silk scarf – he heard Bronco Henry, whom he always talks about and who has long been dead. The only person he’s ever loved. The way he plays the rough shell and because of the times is not allowed to be what he is, reminds a bit of Campion’s heroine in “Bright Star”, who tries against all obstacles of the 19th century, her frail and unworldly lover, the poet John Keats to be a provider. Perhaps a good way to celebrate today’s freedoms is to show what it meant to be without them.
The film begins with a grandiose sequence filmed from the flight, towards Naples
Is there a lot to do with stories about the past or the future if the present has not crept into them? That is exactly the problem with the new film by Paolo Sorrentino, who has also chosen a man’s soul to explore for “È stata la mano di Dio” – his own. Fabio, the main character, is a self-portrait. For Fabio, the summer in which “The Hand of God” plays a role will be the last of his childhood. The film begins with a grandiose sequence filmed from the flight, towards Naples, where a vintage car drives along the coast, then back to the sea, where you can see the outlines of Capri and Ischia in the distance. Sorrentino (“La Grande Bellezza”, “The Young Pope”) had, as always, a bunch of bizarre ideas – in the extended family there is an old aunt who sits in the sun in a fur coat and obviously on some kind of permanent tourette -Syndrome and Fabio’s parents are lovely. The mother likes to play pranks, once when she told the neighbor on the phone that she was Franco Zeffirelli’s assistant, the father yells: We are communists, they are honest! The fact that Maradona now plays for Naples, the moment when he touches the ball with his hand at a goal – that is life-defining for Fabio, until everything has to take a back seat to personal worries. “The Hand of God” is wonderful to look at, but you can find out a lot about Sorrentino and little about the rest of the world.
Nevertheless, Fabio has a lot in common with the well-born Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), much more than the dark curly hair – like Fabio, Paul is suddenly confronted with growing up. Paul is the young hero who comes to the desert planet Arakis in “Dune”, whose actual inhabitants live underground while the powers of the empire decide on their livelihood. The cultivation of arakis is made difficult by huge, all-devouring earthworms. Frank Herbert’s novels first appeared in the sixties, the first and so far most successful film adaptation was made by David Lynch in 1984. The Canadian Denis Villeneuve, who made “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049” among other things, finds his own access to the mythical worlds of science fiction with his new film adaptation, which is out of competition.
“Spice” is the commodity the desert planet is being exploited for, a metaphor for any commodity that has been at war for hundreds of years. As Villeneuve says about it – a bit slower and more focused on the characters than you would expect from Hollywood science fiction – is exactly the opposite of “The Hand of God”. Villeneuve finds the now in everything; ultimately, his film even has something to do with Afghanistan, although when he made it he could not have known how much we would be concerned about flight and displacement at the moment of its premiere. However, at the end of “Dune” you have the feeling that you have only seen half a film, and that’s the way it is – Villeneuve has planned the novel in two parts, and the first ends in anticipation of the second. Oscar Isaac, who plays Paul’s father, is no longer there. But he showed up again in the competition and on Sunday in an HBO remake of “Scenes from a Marriage”.
The images from the torture cellars of Abu Ghraib come back in my sleep
Isaac is also the driving force behind Paul Schrader’s “The Card Counter”. There he plays Bill Tilich, who calls himself William Tell since he was released from prison. He’s a player who drives from casino to casino across the United States and makes a decent living winning card counting at the gaming table – with small stakes so no one bother to kick him out. His hotel rooms always look the same – the first thing he does when he comes in is to cover up all the furniture with the white sheets that he has in his luggage, and it is never quite clear whether he is doing this out of excessive cleanliness or because he is dealing with it brings a feeling of home into the unfamiliar rooms.
Nightmares plague him at night, and it can dawn on one at first what is responsible in his past for his stay in prison and the irredeemably wounded soul: The images from the torture cellars of Abu Ghraib come back in his sleep, where Bill was stationed as a young soldier; he has destroyed other people and himself in the process. Everyone, he says once to the boy he finds on his journey, has a point where he just freaks out. Circ’s father was also in the cellars of Abu Ghraib at the time – he killed himself, and the boy now wants to persuade Bill to hunt him down on a man named Gordo (Willem Dafoe), who was the torturer’s supervisor at the time, she animated and doesn’t seem to have paid a price for it. Schrader is also looking for justice – but he already knows that revenge always creates new guilty parties.