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This sure got my attention. Claire Denis's first English-language film will be a sci-fi movie co-written by Zadie Smith.

 

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French director Claire Denis is teaming with British writer Zadie Smith on her first English-language film, which is set in space.

 

Plot details are being kept under wraps on the as-yet untitled adventure-sci-fi but it is known to take place beyond the solar system in a ‘future that seems like the present’.

 

Denis is writing the script with acclaimed novelist Smith (White Teeth) and Smith’s writer husband Nick Laird.

 

The project, which marks an intriguing change of direction for the White Material and Beau Travail writer-director, is based on an original idea by Denis and her regular writing partner Jean-Pol Fargeau.

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The intriguing collection of collaborators on the film also include Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, known for his Tate Modern installation The Weather Project, the astrophysicist Aurélien Barrau, known for his work on black holes and cosmology, and Stuart Staples of indie band Tindersticks, who previously provided music for Denis titles including White Material and 35 Rhums.

 

Denis and Eliasson previously worked together on a short film to coincide with his exhibition Contact, which opened the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris in December 2014.

 

Producer Dungey told Screen: “I am delighted that Claire has been tempted to cross the channel and make a film in English; she is one of the greats of contemporary cinema and she’s assembled a quite extraordinary team to make exactly the kind of ambitious film that audiences cherish – completely original, genuinely pushing the boundaries of art and science and, above all, extremely entertaining.”

 

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I heard rumors of this project about a year ago, so I'm excited it's far enough along in development to warrant a press release. I'm intrigued but a little concerned about her working with Smith and Laird, mainly because her last collaboration with a screenwriter other than Fargeau produced one of her weakest films, White Material. Her best films are such family affairs -- with the same writer, cast, dp, editor, composer, and production designer -- that I worry even a very interesting "space movie" will lack some of the special Denis magic I love so much.

 

Now, how about an update on her other rumored projects, the sequels to Nenette + Boni and White Material?

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Update:

Denis’ English-language debut, due to shoot next year, is understood to follow a group of skilled criminals who, in a bid to escape their long sentences or capital punishment, accept a likely-fatal government space mission to find alternative energy sources.

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Time to re-title this thread.

Saw it last night, and I am impressed, perplexed, and strangely unmoved... all at once. 

I suspect this will be a second-timer for me... or maybe a third, if I can muster the will to stick with it. It tried my patience, as I had difficulty tracing lines through these bizarre outer-space circumstances that led to any kind of insight. From her opening shot onward, Denis is clearly keeping both Stalker and Solaris in view — Pattinson's fuzzy dome and shots of a train running through wilderness are just a couple of the obvious reference points — and there's also a heavy dose of Lynch, with long shots of pipes and industrial equipment that emanate a vaguely sinister influence. But the relentlessness of the focus on sexual cruelty was somehow extreme without ever becoming... I don't know... interesting. The big leap forward in time at the end complicates matters by burdening my suspension of disbelief and generating a ton of questions about "Wait, but... how...? Are you telling me that, in the interim, all of this has happened?"

I'm hoping to read something insightful soon that will help me say, "Okay, I'm glad I sat through this."

I admit it — I'm disappointed. I love some of Denis' films, and others have left me puzzled, but this one frustrates me.

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> I'm hoping to read something insightful soon that will help me say, "Okay, I'm glad I sat through this."

I think Nick Pinkerton is the best critic of late Denis. His cover feature for Film Comment is great. If all goes as planned, my long essay will be published this week, hopefully on Monday. Only the last fourth is specifically about High Life, but I felt like I was wearing my old A&F hat when I wrote it. I call the film a "theologocal/ontological puzzle box." It's Denis asking "Why live?"

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Keen to support women filmmakers, I was eager to review High Life. It’s the 14th feature film, the first in English, from 73-year-old darling-auteur of French cinema, Claire Denis (Let the Sunshine In). The early reviews were raves. Happy me. Then I found its rating:  Rated R for disturbing sexual and violent content including sexual assault, graphic nudity, and language. Uh oh…

A baby squeals in a playpen set up in a space ship that has seen better days. Making repairs outside the ship, her space-suited father coos to her. Lovely, eh? Haunting, unforgettable. Only after suffering through the entire film, do you realize these endearing early images anesthetized you to the horrid images that follow. Was such numbness, God forbid, the purpose of the film?

The premise of High Life is classic sci-fi: The Government offered a deal to death row inmates: they won’t be executed if they go into space as medical guinea pigs and then head into a black hole to see what happens. Surely a mission with a low potential for success.

The positives: Cinematography, sound and music are top-notch. All actors, including the international supporting cast, are terrific. Monte, played by Robert Pattison (the five Twilight films), is outstanding as the solitary prisoner who finds hope in raising his daughter Willow (14-month old Scarlett Lindsey and teenager Jessie Ross). Unfortunately, you do wish you could forget the brilliant performance of Juliette Binoche (my favorite actress, Oscar for The English Patient), who is too-convincing as Dr. Dibs, the insidious reproduction-obsessed crew doctor.

Director/co-writer Denis claims High Life is about what it means to be human. (Life in really High places, get it?) The loving father/daughter thread exquisitely portrays humanity at its best. But the surrounding story is humanity wallowing in its worst.

Unending isolation means life is nothing more than maintaining existence. It’s 24 hours a day of being a hopeless victim, insanely seeking relief in drug addiction, endless exploration of bodily fluids, masturbation, rape, murder, and suicide. Without even one ounce of humor, High Life is 110 minutes of emotional pummeling.

You’ve been warned.

 

Marcianne Miller has reviewed films in Los Angeles and Asheville. She is a member of SEFCA and NCFCA.

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My piece is up at The Notebook. Here's a very on-brand tease:

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In a film already renowned for its sudden explosions of brutality, its flirtations with transgression and taboo, and its images of a nude Binoche writhing on a stainless steel dildo, Monte’s salvation is High Life’s true reason for being. I use that word, “salvation,” with only a hint of irony. While the film draws on any number of sci-fi and prison film conventions, High Life is classic speculative fiction in that all of the narrative mechanisms—cosmology, astrophysics, violence, reproduction, the ethics of crime and punishment—are interlocking pieces of an ontological/theological puzzle box.

 

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On 4/16/2019 at 7:36 PM, Darren H said:

My piece is up at The Notebook. Here's a very on-brand tease:

 

I just watched this for the first time.

Don't know what to say yet, especially given the complexity of the interlocking pieces of that puzzle. 

But this much I can say:

For most of the run time, I was gritting my teeth and preparing to cover my eyes from pure fear of the despair and horror that was surely to come...and fear of that ominous score on this ominous ship.  And yes, there were times that I almost crawled into a shell because of the brutality and cruelty in the film (I think I did crawl into that shell during the scene with Binoche in the box, but for different reasons...I just can't justify that particular level of provocation in this film.)

Then came the final act, after which my attention was so captured that my eyes watched every mysterious star-gleam of the final credits. 

Then came the next day, when this film exerted such a magnetism on my mind that I ran to Darren's article (great work, Darren) above and to Josh Larsen's review...and the magnetic pull just got stronger.

I think there is something here...

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