BFI London Film Festival 2021: Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog

The Power of the Dog (2021)

Deliver my soul from the sword/My darling from the power of the dog” (Psalms, Preface to Thomas Savage’s novel The Power of the Dog (1967)).

The biggest mistake I probably made is reading the book ahead of the film. I read Thomas Savage’s novel The Power of the Dog awhile ago now and this reading experience definitely tampered with my experiencing Jane Campion’s film. The Power of the Dog centres on two very different brothers Phil and George Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch and Jesse Plemons) living on a big ranch in Montana in 1925. If Phil is the very definition of a brutal force and “no-nonsense” attitude, his brother George is more subdued and caring. When George takes notice of a lonely widow Rose (Kirsten Dunst), falls in love her, and moves her and her alienated teenage son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee) into Burbanks’ property, the gap between the brothers only grows and soon full psychological warfare is raging. Through the film’s atmosphere alone (including production, camerawork, score and setting), as well as Cumberbatch’s mesmerising-in-its-zealousness performance, The Power of the Dog is a film of uncanny beauty and subtle power, whose biggest asset is the curious interplay of contrasts of all kinds: physical power vs. powers of intellect, kindness vs. ruthlessness, refinement vs. roughness, innocence vs. corruption, hypocrisy vs. honesty, and love vs. hate.

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“Wings” Review

Wings (1966)

Larisa Shepitko was a Soviet film-maker who made only four full-length films (her film Ascent won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin International Film Festival 1977) before her untimely death in a car accident at the age of 41 in 1979. Shepitko’s film Wings tells the story of a decorated ex-pilot of the Red Army during the WWII – Nadezhda Petrukhina (Maya Bulgakova) who tries to re-build her life after the war period and faces a number of obstacles. Often day-dreaming about flying, Nadezhda finds it hard to find common ground with her only daughter Tanya, who has recently got engaged, and Nadezhda’s self-sacrificing and domineering approach to schooling means that she is also at odds with the younger generation in a college where she directs, who appear in her eyes to be comparatively self-centered and lacking in meekness. Through the character of one female war veteran, Wings deals bravely with a number of sensitive topics, among which is hidden PTSD, possible loneliness and isolation in the post-war atmosphere and the problem of adjusting to the times of peace. Shot with nuance and balance, Wings is a largely forgotten masterpiece that needs to be seen.

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Childhood in Cinema: 10 Unforgettable Films

I. Ivan’s Childhood [1962]

Country: USSR

Andrei Tarkovsky‘s film is a a beautiful, powerful story set during the World War II. At its centre is a twelve-year old boy Ivan (Kolya Burlyayev) who has taken on the job of an adult, the dangerous job of spying on the Nazi forces that are invading his country. Tarkovsky was able to convey his own particular poetic vision of one fragile childhood that meets the horrors of war. Ivan’s tasks for the Red Army intermingle with his dreams of happiness as Tarkovsky shows the sheer impact of war barbarities on a young mind. This movie is both moving and unforgettable, and remains the best cinematic debut I have ever seen.

II. The Spirit of the Beehive [1973]

Country: Spain

The Spirit of the Beehive or El espíritu de la colmena comes from Spanish director Víctor Erice and stars young Ana Torrent in the lead role, giving the most exceptional performance. As so many other films on this list, this beautifully-filmed story portrays children coming to terms with the darker side of life. The story centres on two small girls in a Castilian village in 1940 during the Franco regime. Their fascination with Frankenstein leads to their imaginary world colliding with the harsh realities around them, especially when Ana encounters an escaped prisoner. Atmospheric and rich in symbolism, The Spirit of the Beehive is rightly considered to be one of the foremost cinematic achievements from Spain.

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Top 10 Films from Alfred Hitchcock

I. Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo is probably the most “philosophicalof all Hitchcock films. Whatever angle you take (the detailed “stalking” scenes, the acting, the object symbolism, etc.), the beauty of Vertigo comes through, overwhelming the viewer. Set and shot on location in San Francisco, Vertigo is a story of obsession that focuses on Scottie Ferguson (James Stewart (Anatomy of Murder (1959)), a former detective suffering from acrophobia (an extreme fear of heights) who is tasked with following one woman by her husband – Madeleine (Kim Novak), because she might be a danger to herself. This film about mistaken identities, grief and seeking love at all costs is also a nuanced psychological thriller. I can’t say I enjoy the very slow pace of Vertigo, but it is an entrancing cinematic experience nevertheless and for a multitude of reasons deserves its number one spot.

II. Psycho (1960)

Psycho is my confident number two choice. This is a quintessential Hitchcock film with some unbelievable twists and deep psychology. Suspense is the word here. In this story, Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) steals quite a lot of money from her employer’s client and hits the road. However, she needs to rest somewhere on her way to her “financial freedom” and chooses the Bates’ Motel. You need to watch the film to know what happens there. In my review, I talked about how “Hitchcock plays expertly with its audience’s imagination and formed beliefs” in this film, that was also ground-breaking in many ways upon its release. Psycho is a the film that stood the test of time.

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