Even if it has power in it, the “power of the dog” has a hard time moving

The root of the problem
Even if it has power in it, the “power of the dog” has a hard time moving. The reference to it as one of the best films of the year has to do with the fact that it deals with the right subjects at the right time

Non-American directors have created some of the best films about America, for example Wim Wenders’ “Paris Texas”. Women were behind some of the best films made about men, for example Chloe’s Rider. New Zealander Jane Campion is neither American nor a man, and her new film “The Power of the Dog” takes place in Montana in the 1920s, and deals with toxic masculinity. Given the cinematic tradition we mentioned, it is no wonder that it is considered one of the best films of the year, and will certainly be nominated for a host of Oscars.

The film is based on a book of the same name by Thomas Swag, published in Hebrew by Kinneret Zmora Dvir, translated by Yael Achmon. By itself, the title is called a quote from a number of psalms: “Saved from a mental sword immediately a single dog.” Dog lovers will not be happy to hear this, but things were based on the perception that these are cruel animals, who know how to recognize weakness, exploit it and attack it.

Such is the film’s protagonist, Paul – a walking poison capsule played by Benedict Cumberbatch. He runs a farm together with his brother George, played by Jesse Flemons, another actor who has recently been seen everywhere. And here comes another biblical source of inspiration – it is evident that the two correspond with the characters of Cain and Abel. Paul is talkative, domineering and aggressive; George is quiet, pleasant-mannered and passive.

George marries a widow named Rose, played by Kirsten Dunst, and Paul despises her and her son, a gentle boy named Peter, whose demeanor is too delicate and soft in the eyes of the powerful farmer, who likes to illustrate how “man-man” he is, and wants everyone to be like him . When at the beginning of the film the boy makes flowers out of paper, for example, this morning he mocks his “femininity”.

Paul also likes to translate his negative thoughts into actions, and knows how to do it. Being a dog with a good sense of smell, the cruel morning recognizes the weaknesses of the victims and uses them to torture the objects of contempt. Over time, it becomes clear that this forced and strenuous masculinity may be nothing but the farmer’s way of suppressing his sexual orientations. In time, it is also revealed that the boy he enjoys trampling like a sword in a flower bed, is not as innocent as he and the viewers thought, and will do whatever it takes to protect his favorite woman in the world – his mother.

“The Power of the Dog” deals with the war between the sword and the flower, and although it is clear on which side it is, it has no naive illusions. The film illustrates that it is not possible to win swords using only flowers, but to use the other side’s weapon. Which begs the question – is it really a victory, when we defeat the other side using his tactics?

“The Power of the Dog” was first screened at the Venice Film Festival about three months ago, and then also at the New York Film Festival, where I watched it. In two weeks it will air on Netflix, which produced it as part of its takeover of the world of artistic cinema, but before that it will make a tour of our theaters (starting yesterday in cinemas), and that’s good. If you’re already seen this movie – then on the big screen.

Although the plot of the film takes place in Montana, Campion filmed it in her New Zealand homeland. Together with the photographer Ari Wagner, who has already done a phenomenal job in films like “Lady Macbeth”, she brings out the best in the landscapes, whose pure beauty stands in contrast to the darkness of the human characters. When it comes to the visual side, “The Power of the Dog” aligns with the beautiful classics of Terence Malik, for example “Days in the Sky”.

Campion is one of the most important directors in the history of contemporary cinema, and to this year also the only woman to have directed a winning Palm Palm film – “The Piano”. “The Power of the Dog” is her first feature film after a dozen years working on television, and her directing work makes good use not only of landscapes but also close-ups of the characters’ faces.

The gameplay displays are impressive, especially of Cumberbatch of course and of Cody Smith-McPhee. The boy he plays joins a respectable film gallery of boys who were equally innocent and creepy, for example Kevin played by Ezra Miller in “Must Talk About Kevin.”

The music of Johnny Greenwood, who also excelled this year in “Spencer,” contributes to the film’s chilling dramatic power. But despite all these qualities, in the end the whole here is smaller than the sum of its parts. The film has teeth, but sometimes it’s too clear what it’s trying to say, and it also has paperwork and artificiality, and an excess of atmospheric scenes that make it heavy and tedious. The investment in it pays off thanks to its brilliant ending, but in the end, even if it has power, the “power of the dog” is hard to get excited about. The overestimation he enjoys is probably related to the fact that he is dealing with the right issues at the right time.
Not sure if “The Power of the Dog” deserves to be considered one of the best films of the year, but it is definitely an experience that has virtues and qualities, especially if consumed on the big screen, where its place. In addition, and as befits a film called Quote of a Psalm, it does take place in Montana, but its preoccupation with toxic masculinity is also very relevant to our reality and society. It remains only to pray that we too will be saved. 

Avner Shavit is the film critic of Walla!

By Editor

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