In “The Power of the Dog”, Jane Campion pierces the shell of the alpha male – Les Inrocks

Available on Netflix, the new film by Jane Campion, twelve years after “Bright Star”, summons a character symbolizing masculinity in crisis and embodied by a breathtaking Benedict Cumberbatch.

Had we ended up embalming Jane Campion in a symbolic golden sarcophagus, that of a cinema of the female gaze having been the only one to reach the Olympus of world author cinema, with a Palme d’Or awarded twenty years ago? -eight years to The Piano Lesson ?

It must be said that after intense activity in the 1990s with four films in nine years, it became much rarer in the following century: only two films, In The Cut in 2003 and Bright Star in 2009, and two seasons of his series Top of the Lake (2013-2017). The game of chance wants its return to the cinema – in its form more than in its means of distribution, since it is only available on Netflix – to coincide with the Palme d’Or awarded this year to Julia Ducournau for Titanium.

Back to basics

In the interview she gave us, the New Zealand director told us bluntly: wearing this double-sided medal (pride in having won this award and sadness to be the only woman) was a burden, who like the heroine of The Piano Lesson, has undoubtedly reduced it to artistic virtual silence for twelve years.

However, it is no coincidence that his new film, The power of the dog, is very strongly linked to his most canonized film. This adaptation of a 1967 Thomas Savage novel plunges us into the vast isolated plains of 1920s Montana, whose sweet monotony is only broken by the erection of a plush ranch, blown by the wind and held by two. brothers that all oppose.

Field man and pack leader Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a mixture of sophistication, brutality and gnarled muscles while his brother George (Jesse Plemons), the scraper, is a big listless and placid teddy bear. Their daily life is turned upside down when George marries Rose (Kirsten Dunst), a grieving widow of a first marriage which gave him Peter, a lanky and effeminate son, whom Phil quickly takes a grip on.


In addition to the incidental presence of a piano in the two films, its narrative scheme, punctuated in numbered chapters, is the same as that of The Piano Lesson. In a wild environment, made character by the setting in scene, a marriage brings together four beings; a widow, her offspring and two divergent embodiments of masculinity.

Except that the meeting, the relational accident which tends all the cinema of Jane Campion, of Sweetie To Bright Star Passing by Holy smoke, does not occur between Rose and Phil but between Peter and Phil. In this, the film joins the family of neo-westerns like First Cow, who break the virility of the John Wayne cowboy more than they brandish the precursor feminism of a Johnny Guitar. Moreover, the character played by Kirsten Dunst does not seem to be of particular interest to the filmmaker.

Benedict Cumberbatch as macho-alpha-gay

All his attention is focused on Phil, played by a raging Benedict Cumberbatch, eroticized like never before, whose every movement gives off a strong scent of musk and whose tormented and tormenting magnetism is accompanied by the piercing strings of the soundtrack, composed by Jonny Greenwood of the Radiohead group. He embodies the macho alpha, so proud to be a man that he is in love with his own genre, without assuming his mourning homosexuality, which he represses with violent homophobia.

This macho-alpha-gay position obviously makes it a suffering loneliness, it generates a feeling of impediment which is, along with the meeting, the other recurring motif in Jane Campion’s cinema. The two obsessions are linked: the encounter fights atrophy.

Seeing the films of Jane Campion, we think of the sublime song of Etienne Daho, Opening. The power of the dog tells nothing other than the way in which two characters seemingly closed to each other will gradually open up, accept to be upset by the experience of the other and tame, in a dynamic mixing eroticism and mutation of the desire for domination into a form of repressed love.

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In “The Power of the Dog”, Jane Campion pierces the shell of the alpha male – Les Inrocks