Jane Campion: “I experienced #Metoo like a tsunami”

Jane Campion is celebrated at the Lumière Festival which ends tonight. We had met the filmmaker a few weeks ago to talk to her about #Metoo, Julia Ducournau and her new film, Power of the dog.

Since the arrival of Jane Campion last Thursday, the Lumière Festival has lived to the rhythm of its films and public appearances. A masterclass, the (very moving) presentation of the Prix Lumière, a press conference … Jane Campion was in Lyon as in her kingdom. She also came to present her new film, The power of the dog, a twilight western adapted from a novel by the American Thomas Savage. The film takes place on a ranch in Montana. This is where two brothers live in opposition: on one side the discreet and elegant George (Jesse Plemons), on the other, the eruptive and scruffy Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch). In the middle, there is Rose (Kirsten Dunst), wife of the first, who drowns her sadness in alcohol. No real rides in the middle of the plains here, nor gunfight near a cemetery, but silky dolly shots that majestically embrace the mountains and rivers of Montana. We do not remake the director of The piano lesson, champion of a romantic cinema whose assertive classicism imprisons characters in search of emancipation (social, physical, sexual …) The power of the dog thus auscultates the way in which Phil, the black sheep of the family, represses his homosexuality to better assert, with an exacerbated virility, his role of leader of men. It’s been over a decade since we last saw a Jane Campion feature film. We had been able to speak to him a few weeks ago to evoke this absence, the Palme d’Or of Julia Ducournau, his last film, but also the Lumière festival which was fast approaching.

You are about to receive the Lumière Prize in Lyon, which Thierry Frémaux is accustomed to presenting as the Nobel for cinema. What effect does it have on you?

Jane Campion: My God, you are putting pressure on me! I am obviously very honored. I always wonder when receiving a reward, what did I do to deserve this. What turns me on the most is the possibility of showing all my films on the big screen. I am quite comfortable with my past work, I accept their quality and their many flaws, although by nature I am not at all someone who likes to look back. A filmmaker is always in the aftermath, in search of the next gesture … In Lyon, I will therefore be a film buff like the others who will rediscover the work of a New Zealand director. Well, come to think of it, I’m still a little afraid that horrible things will jump in my face …

That is to say ?

JC: A cutesy sequence that I had forgotten, an unnecessary tracking shot, a detail that stains … Watching one of his films is like seeing yourself in a photo, you often only see the flaws. The idea is of course to be moved by moments of beauty that were not necessarily revealed at the release of the film and which finally crystallize today … Let’s dream a little …

You are no longer the only woman to have won a Palme d’Or … It was about time, right?

JC: My darling julia ! I haven’t seen his film yet and I asked Thierry [Frémaux] to show it to me in Lyon and meet Julia. It’s great for her. Beyond the qualities of each other’s work, the important thing is to see how things have evolved since the emergence of the MeToo movement. A movement that I personally experienced as a tsunami. The idea that many people in the profession: actresses, actors, producers, producers but also journalists, support the victims of sexual assault, try to understand them or simply listen to them, it is immense. It is this recognition that today makes it possible to claim equality between men and women. An earthquake has occurred, we can no longer retreat …

What has concretely changed in the way you work in recent years?

JC: Hard to say. There is nothing conscious but it may not be a coincidence that The power of the dog, is my first film starring a man. Before, I was obsessed with this idea of ​​highlighting female characters because they were hardly visible on the screens. I now have the impression that we will no longer have to ask ourselves this kind of question. Women are more and more present in the industry, in front of and behind the cameras too.

Does the gender of a protagonist change the way you write?

JC: Absolutely not. In his novel Thomas Savage offers a description as complex as it is precise of Phil Burbank (Benedict Cumberbatch). As a screenwriter and then a filmmaker, I immerse myself in the psyche of an individual and the fact that he is a woman or a man luckily does not change the matter. We must try to probe his secret wounds, his inner grace, try to understand the way he or she acts and interacts with his fellows. As it happens here, Phil is a person who lives alone among others. We sense that something is blocking him, blocking him, that his behavior is more of self-defense. There is nothing natural about his way of being in the world. I read for the first time The power of the dog at the end of the seventies. It was my father who then advised me to read it, as he always did in my childhood. At the time, there was obviously no question of making a film of it, but this story continued to haunt me. I was secretly hoping that someone was going to grab it …

Until you finally realize it yourself?

JC: When I finally decided to bring it to the screen, the adaptation rights belonged to a production company based in Montreal. The producers were already thinking of another filmmaker. My agent has indicated that I am interested. Everything happened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019. Faced with the producers, I launched into a real explanation of the text. Faced with so much enthusiasm, they could not help but get me to sign (laughs).

How did you get involved in this story?

JC: It is often the places that dictate my staging. More than humans for that matter. I went to Montana, to where Thomas Savage lived. With a friend, we started to read the novel in detail to try to extract a script from it. We must then set aside entire sections of the book. You quickly realize that what you choose to keep dictates not only how you want to tell that story but more importantly what you seek to express. I remained focused on the characters’ emotions more than on their actions, hence this feeling of confinement, of being closed in the open.

This is the first time that you have signed a western. Is this a genre that resonates with you?

JC: Where I live in New Zealand there are also huge ranches. Since I was a child, I have been riding a horse. I also have a horse at home. I am therefore on familiar ground. However, the world the book describes is not ours. There is a lot of brutality. Montana is a sublime and vast region. These cowboys lived completely withdrawn from the world even if at the beginning of the 20th century, when the novel takes place, things tend to open up. Hence the wild and brutal aspect of the protagonists. Before shooting this film, I had a strange dream …

Who ?

JC: I’m on a dark horse, which I don’t know at all. A rather nervous beast. We are on a steep path that climbs to the top of a rock. At the very top there is a huge precipice. The path we take is getting shorter and shorter, behind us we no longer see the route we have just taken. Our only solution is therefore to advance towards death. I did not interpret it negatively, but rather as a warning. “Jane concentrate on the essentials!” The important thing to note here is that I do not know this horse on which I am embarked, but if there is no relationship of trust between you and the animal, you will not achieve anything. This black horse is a bit like my movie. I had to take ownership of this story, the characters … You cannot be outside the world you plan to describe. You immerse yourself completely … It’s both beautiful and scary.

I was talking about western just now to qualify the film. I got the impression you didn’t agree …

JC: It’s true. I will rather speak of post-western. The plot is set at the beginning of the 20th century, automobiles begin to replace horses, at least to circulate. We are entering a new world and a new era. The idea was to play with the mythical figure of the cowboy to show his anachronistic aspect. In this magnificent ranch, there is also something decadent and spectral, life seems to have gradually receded. There is this idea of ​​twilight.

In the midst of this world populated mostly by men, there is Rose (Kirsten Dunst) who gradually sinks into her own sadness …

JC: … Sadness maybe, but there is an incredible strength from her that Phil feels. Their understanding also goes through music. She plays popular tunes on the piano, which he then resumes on the banjo, like a game between them. But this dialogue remains at a distance. Phil who hides his homosexuality refuses this rapprochement and prefers to play tough on the ranch. And here comes Rose’s son, Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Phil is more and more attracted to him. Rose sees everything. She senses the danger of such a relationship. He is a withdrawn character but who has a central role in the plot.

The power of the dog is your return to the cinema after a decade of absence. Weren’t you a little fed up with the series format?

JC: … It’s a bit true. I wanted to come back to this primordial form of cinema, to tell a story over a short period of time. Here, scattering is impossible. I am on this dark horse which moves forward knowing that at the end there is the end.

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