The first two days provided films that focused on the nature of the imperfect father. Day three came full circle with a spotlight on motherhood. From a matriarch whose entire world revolved around her children to a woman who shamelessly declares that she wasn’t meant to be a parent, the theme was apparent in the movies we researched.
We started the day with Pablo Larraín’s dreamlike new film Spencer starring Kristen Stewart as Diana, the Tormented Princess of Wales. The film is set over the Christmas holidays at the Royal Family’s Sandringham Estate, and although the time, place, and people are based on reality, the film itself works in a way that is described as “a fairy tale upside down”. Kind of a ghost story.
This is a very important thing to know before the start of the film. This is NOT a biopic. It is a film that voluntarily takes liberties with its historical events. Larraín’s film declares straight away: “A fable of a true tragedy. This unique approach leaves a lot to absorb and digest. It’s not the type of movie you should see and tweet an instant reaction to, in my opinion, and proof of that is how much I’ve gone from loving Spencer to loving him over the past 24 hours.
Kristen Stewart delivers a masterful and virtuoso performance as a doomed princess reaching the peak of her mental and emotional crisis, with panic and vivid illusions. The mark of a great performance can often be seen through the eyes of the actor. How they express their curiosity. How they show angst and ambition. How well they can make you feel the emotions their character feels when you slip under the veil of the story they convey. That’s what Stewart achieved with his epic portrait. Stewart’s performance is what Oscar dreams are made of.
Spencer is a heavy movie. Gray clouds and hazy mists linger over the frosty courtyards and icy countryside, creating a haunting ambience that foreshadows the fate of the princess. The mood is expertly captured by cinematographer Claire Mathon, and composer Jonny Greenwood’s score is as eerie and lingering as Diana’s wayward wit. Spencer is a film’s feverish dream, giving a grim take on the turmoil Diana has gone through as a mother and wife trapped under the pressure of her obligations to the royal family. It will stay with you for days after seeing it.
We followed Stewart’s outstanding performance with another fantastic turn from Olivia Colman in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s first film, The Lost Daughter. Colman wonderfully plays the role of a woman who reflects on issues from her past and comes to terms with the fact that she was not destined for motherhood. Jessie Buckley is also terrific playing the younger version of Colman’s character. The film is a noble first effort by the talented actress-turned-director.
We ended this day of dark stories with what could be the darkest film of the festival, Jane Campion’s breathtaking cinematic return, The Power of the Dog. Campion was present to receive his tribute, awarded to him by Benedict Cumberbatch, the leader of his new movie. Campion spoke about his film, calling it “an exploration of masculinity” and felt it was a bookend for his 1993 Oscar-winning film, The Piano. Touring during the pandemic in New Zealand, Campion reveled in the experience, calling it “the most extraordinary thing she’s done in her life.”
The Power of the Dog is set in the cattle ranching lands of Montana in 1925. Cumberbatch stars alongside Jesse Plemons as two diametrically opposed brothers, Phil and George. When George takes a wife, Rose (Kirsten Dunst), Phil’s menacing and menacing presence drives her and her bizarre son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee), to madness.
The Power of the Dog is meticulously crafted and wonderfully executed. Delightfully shot by Ari Wegner, Campion’s film is both glowing and gloomy. The Power of the Dog is a towering achievement and the best work of Campion and Cumberbatch careers. Jonny Greenwood’s breathtaking score is once again aces, capturing the beauty of the awe-inspiring scenery and the looming danger Phil’s shadow casts on the newly formed family. The soundtrack is the one I’ll play on repeat as soon as I can get my hands on it.
Put simply, The Power of the Dog is one of the best films of the year, adding to the exceptional lineup we witnessed in the early days here at the 48th Telluride Film Festival.