Jane Campion and Benedict Cumberbatch talk about ‘Power of the Dog’ at NYFF

On Friday evening? halfway through the march of this year’s New York Film Festival? the legendary director and writer Jane Campion joined Benedict Cumberbatch, Kirsten Dunst, Kodi Smit-McPheeNetflix CEO Ted SarandosIn premiering her new film “The Power of the Dog,”A New York audience. 

Friday’s event spilled over into Central Park’s Tavern on the Green for an intimate after party. The evening went on. “The Power of the Dog’s” fall tour across the world’s film festivals, from Venice to Telluride to Toronto. It also sustained the film community’s continued elation to find Campion, whose movies have offered a few of the better-drawn feminist characters in film, promoting her first feature in 12 years.

“Ever since I was young and watched ‘The Piano,’ Jane has been a filmmaker that I’ve admired and wanted to work with,”Dunst said VarietyThe premiere “When I was in my 20s, she actually sent me a letter about working together… I’ve saved it since. Her films and the women in them have sustained me across my whole career.”

As an adaptation of Thomas Savage’s 1967 novel of the same name, “The Power of the Dog”Campion is known for his deep, simmering sexuality and subdued carnal imagery.

Filmed in Montana, 1920s, it follows Phil Burbank (Cumberbatch), who is a masochistic cattle rancher. His reign of terror is based on a frontier-worn masculinity with deeply intimate sexuality. When his brother (Jesse Plemons) marries a young widow (Kirsten Dunst) with an effeminate, queer son (Kodi Smit-McPhee), Cumberbatch’s character is again reminded of the mentorship, affection and intimacy of a former cowboy.

“The film is clearly a complex way of approaching masculinity. I think it’s a solid container for thinking and rethinking the men in this world,”Campion made the remarks at Friday’s press conference, before the premiere. “I see this film as a departure from my other films, but maybe it’s a nice bookend to ‘The Piano,’”She spoke. “This is another big landscape film exploring the masculine myth.”

The film asks what happens if you turn the American Western on its head—when you look at the genre’s mythic ideas of self-determination and fantastical masculinity as exercises in performance concealing hidden sexual desire. The film asks what would happen if an American-born New Zealander attempted to tackle American masculinity and male intimacy, by filming straight actors in New Zealand’s mountainous mountains.

It would appear that Campion and Cumberbatch are directing a Western, but the film is not a story about the horrors of inner homophobia and closeted queerness. 

“I didn’t think of it as a Western,”Campion stated at the screening that she was too impressed by the story’s characters to be engaged in the genre. “The story was too specific.” 

Cumberbatch also offered his opinion on Phil. “He’s a tough guy,”He said Variety At the premiere “He’s an alpha male who had this burning love affair in his youth, which could never be spoken of. The tragedy is what twists him into toxic masculinity, born out as angst and punishment and hate on the world.”

“Yet it’s so hard to view the film through today’s lens,”Cumberbatch, who previously responded to criticisms about his portrayal of queer character, continued. “We look at this now as a queer text, but the story is tied to its time and place,”He stated. “Phil is lonely, jealous and grief-stricken, but he’s not disgusted with himself. In Montana, in the open frontier, he has privacy.”

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