In Review: The Power of the Dog

The American western is no stranger to cruel men who wield their masculinity to maintain their position. Positioned as heroic embodiments of the demands of the time rather than men capable of (and often willing to enact) intense spiritual violence, the ranchers and cowboys of the genre have been exalted as pure representations of manhood. With lush iconography and archetypal characterizations at its core, the western allowed us, even invited us, to overlook the truth of our violent past and the brutality expected of legacies of men. Such is the setting for The Power of the Dog, Jane Campion’s momentous return to the cinema that aims to upbend those conventions and does so with the swiftness of a hot blade. The film is not really a western, but interested in the genre all the same—both in the masculine ideals it upholds and their reflections in American culture.

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In Review: Bergman Island

After the misfire of Maya, a downbeat drama of cultural tourism still awaiting US distribution, Mia Hansen-Løve returns victorious with a film that matches her observational and emotionally intelligent approach with her most ambitious narrative threading yet. Miraculous in mysterious ways, Bergman Island is a return to peak form for the auteur, one that begins with deceptive modesty before steadily exhaling its ideas. Heady but without the emotional remove that such descriptors would imply, Hansen-Løve manages to make a deep and tender film about romance, art, and the subjectivity inherent to experiencing them. It’s simply a wonder to behold.

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In Review: Days

There is ecstasy and anguish to the world as Tsai Ming-liang captures it, observing the sonorific isolation of existing in the modern metropolis in such films as Stray Dogs, his debut Rebels of the Neon God, and the surreal The Wayward Cloud. His latest, the queer longing microepic Days, is perhaps his most narrowly ambitious yet acutely emotional film, as much a chamber piece as it might be possible for him to make. The filmmaker has defined himself as a master of accumulation, molding narratives of few words but instead with powerfully synchronized imagery and sound, building to something overwhelming. The result, whether he delivers realism or allegory, are films whose feelings are impossible to reduce to easy descriptors. Words are insufficient in his films and for them, so naturally Days doesn’t require them to produce something profoundly moving. Nor, as Tsai Ming-liang sees it, does it take words for a fleeting moment of connection.

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