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Road to Oscars 2022. The Cinematography of "The Power Of The Dog"

Third week, third film. Today we’re talking about The Power Of The Dog.

The Power Of The Dog is a 2021 western psychological drama movie written and directed by Jane Campion.

Rancher Phil Burbank is trying to state his supremacy on everybody around him. But things are not always what they seem.. People are not exactly who they seem.

DoP Ari Wegner set the whole movie in an elegant but brutal scenario, mixed with stunning visuals and natural landscapes.

This, in fact, is the perfect balance around which the film revolves: the raw narrative of the story is framed into the beauty of the environmental itself.

The whole movie is filled with a sense of repression but it's depicted in a subtle and somehow sensual way.

The use of colour, for example, is studied very meticulously: we have green grass, brown and black cattles, leather saddles, a timber barn, the dust, the golds and the silvers.

In Phil's secret willow glade, there's a switch in the colour temperature; the most dominant colour is vibrant green. Also notice how Rose is often wearing white and red shades.

Ari Wegner
Ari Wegner

Ari Wegner prepared for a whole year in collaboration with Jane Campion for her career's most significant project. Campion, in fact, wanted Wegner to be involved in every single aspect of planning. Wegner observed very carefully the most photogenic angles to shoot and furthermore, how they changed with the different light across the day. Lots of testing was also performed, so that, whenever the photography seemed fake, it could have been corrected.

It's not about having beautiful but meaningless shots, it's about having beautiful and true shots to tell a realistic story, shaped by the science and art of light. So, the settings are iconic, with a particular focus on people themselves.

The film plays with our perception, highlighting the physical isolation of the characters with contrasts between fore- and background and between grand spaces and intimate moments. About the latter two, we can see the vast environment of Montana (even though the movie is shot - with a long lens - in New Zealand) against the tormented psyches of the main cast.

The leading character is without any doubt Phil Burbank. His presence in every scene is simply massive, is resonating. To enhancing it, he's captured by low-angle and close-up shots. But we can see that as more as we get to know Phil, the camera becomes looser and it's mainly handhelded, coming closer to him.

The most significant scene for Phil is the one shot in "The Sacred Place"; we get to deeply know him. He's raw in this segment, he really shows who he is through his behaviour and actions.

Kodi Smit-McPhee as Peter Gordon and Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank
Kodi Smit-McPhee as Peter Gordon and Benedict Cumberbatch as Phil Burbank

Another very important topic of this move is the battle of light against dark. We have, for example, very bright exteriors and very dark interiors and sometimes this contrast is very strong. Wegner and Campion stated they loved this conflict, also because it recalls the contradiction of the characters. Plus, dark photography forces the viewer to focus on one particular aspect of the scenario and this is another thing that Wegner really appreciates.

Well, that's it for today. Stay tuned for the next movie: The Tragedy Of Macbeth.

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