The Power of the Dog / Bad Luck Banging

The Power of the Dog

Now playing in Australian cinemas.

* * * 1/2

During the end credits of Jane Campion’s new feature The Power of the Dog, she thanks a colleague who gave her the novel on which it is based. Her friend thought she’d like it; it’s easy to see why. I haven’t read the book but Campion’s screenplay and filmed version of it echoes repeatedly in all manner of ways with her acknowledged masterpiece, The Piano (1993).

That film, set in the mid-1800s in isolated New Zealand, placed a newly-married woman and her daughter into a psychosexual pressure-cooker involving two men, one rough as guts and one highly refined. This film, set in 1925 in isolated Montana, places a newly-married woman and her son into a psychosexual pressure-cooker involving two men, one rough as guts and one highly refined. There’s even, not only a piano for the woman to play, but a scene of rough-as-guts workers carrying it across rugged landscape into a refined house for her: a case of a director paying almost risibly direct homage to herself.

The film pans out differently, but thematically it’s of a piece with The Piano, and shares with that film plenty of top-tier craft, including a suite of excellent performances and an outstanding original score (this time by Jonny Greenwood). But the film hums frustratingly along on that single frequency of psychosexual tension without a huge amount of actual dramatic energy. The Piano swept you along: it was ecstatic cinema. The Power of the Dog is restrained for its entire two hours and six minutes, and we, the audience, unfortunately may feel as bound and suffocated by its reserve as the woman, Rose (Kirsten Dunst) does by her observed, isolated new life.

By all means see the film, and preferably on the big screen; it’s sure to feature heavily in awards – including Oscar – conversations, and it does have an eerie, enigmatic quality (and some great acting). But be prepared to settle calmly in your seat, as this film settles into its one very consistent tone.

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn

Opens 25/11 in Australian cinemas.

* * *

Much has been made at various festivals, including the recent Sydney Film Festival, of the explicit opening of Radu Jude’s Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. And it is indeed full of genitalia and explicit sexual acts – for about three minutes. After that the film settles into a story of how those acts, as featured in a sex tape privately filmed by a school teacher, gets her into hot water when they appear online. The film is a colourful, unsubtle attack on hypocrisy and conservatism, in Romania and beyond, in the time of Covid: there are masks, and attitudes to wearing them, all over the film. Jude is shrewd: his film won’t make Marvel Box Office, but it’s precisely engineered for maximum festival marketability. Hopefully if you come for the porn, you’ll stay for the social critique.

Titane

* * * *

Seemingly inspired by Boys Don’t Cry (1999), feature documentary The Imposter (2012) and David Cronenberg’s 1996 adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s Crash, Julia Ducournau’s Palme D’Or-winning follow-up to Raw (2016) – my favourite film of the past five years – is tender and raw, ferocious and funny, and, despite wearing its influences on its diesel-stained sleeve, a true original. While not as brilliant as Raw (and I should not spend Ducournau’s career seeking something that is; Welles never topped Kane, right?), Titane is a major work by a major filmmaker, and echoes in the mind long after its loud credits roll.

Ready for a bonkers one-line synopsis? A young female exotic dancer serial killer goes into hiding with a grief-stricken fireman after having sex with a car. Yep. And that’s kind of spoiler-free. There’s a lot more.

The fireman is played by Vincent Lindon and it’s in his performance, and the relationship he builds with the murderous dancer Alexia (Agathe Rousselle, making an astonishing feature debut), that tenderness resides. At its heart, outside of the crowd-freaking acts of violence and depravity (no greater, by the way, than any in Raw), this is that old chestnut: a tale of two lost, deeply damaged souls finding each other. The film becomes increasingly – yes, tender – as it goes on, culminating in an ending as perfect, and perfectly moving, as it is inevitable.

Parasite

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****

Less tonally schizophrenic, and more accessible, than Joon-ho Bong’s previous work, Parasite is fun, propulsive, ingenious and quite loveable. The young adult son of a couple who have been less than financially lucky in life uses an opportunity to help them and his sister out. The film comments on Korean class issues, but is more concerned with giving the audience a good ride. Extremely well crafted and scripted, and already an incredible box office success in Korea, it’s an intriguing crossover of totally commercial and a teeny bit arty. It won the Palme D’Or for, I guess, the filmmaking brio. See it with an audience; the laughs are infectious.

Wajib

* * * * (out of five)

My favourite film at the 2018 Sydney Film Festival was Annemarie Jacir’s Wajib, and I’m thrilled it’s getting a theatrical release. Go see it. How often do you see a film set in contemporary Nazareth? And a really good one, with heart, humour, dynamism, and politics served without pressure or pain?

Real-life father and son Mohammad and Saleh Bakri play Abu and Shadi, a mature man and his adult son hand-delivering, over the course of a long day, the wedding invitations for Abu’s daughter (and Shadi’s sister). Shadi’s been living in Italy as an architect, and his man-bun and purple pants are indicative of his modernity, which will end up clashing with not only his father’s traditionalism but also his appeasement.

There is a ton of humour at each of the stops these boisterous, at times cranky men make, and a lot of love as well. But the film really proves its mettle by doling out their political differences in perfectly modulated doses; by the end, we can see each of their points of view, and find empathy everywhere. This is in stark contrast to the flashier, far more didactic The Insult, which also featured Palestinian Christian Arab characters and addressed similar – though far from identical – issues. I saw that film the day after this one at the Festival, and while The Insult won the Fest’s Audience Award, Wajib won mine.