The moments of Blade Runner 2049 pass by too quickly, lost in the next gorgeous shot, meticulous special effect, or confounding mystery. Fluorescent advertisements reflect off of murky puddles at the street level, while the higher classes enjoy the seemingly infinite refraction of a glorious light off of crystalline indoor pools. It’s evident immediately: the world of Blade Runner 2049 is complex, dark, and fascinating – a finely-crafted melding of science fiction and noir filmmaking.
In Denis Villeneuve’s high-concept science fiction film Arrival, the expert director deftly explores a profoundly different view of reality – all in the guise of an alien invasion story. Based on the novella Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, the story is hard science fiction at its greatest, and ponders the challenge and ramifications of communicating with an alien species during first contact. In what has become a hallmark of Villeneuve’s style, the film boasts a fascinating non-linear storytelling technique that factors heavily into the plot. Though there are really only four characters of note, each is ably performed by an outstanding actor, with Amy Adams’s performance shining through as something special. This film takes advantage of its genre perfectly, altering a single idea about language and contemplating the potential ramifications. It seems as though Denis Villeneuve has been working in science fiction for his entire career; his treatment of Arrival is a deft exploration of the nature of time, language, and communication – both between humans and aliens, and humans and each other.
Last week on Plot and Theme we had an entire week devoted to the feature films of Denis Villeneuve, and now we get a nice cherry on top: Sicario. Villeneuve’s seventh feature film stars Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, and Benicio del Toro, and tells the story of a FBI SWAT agent Kate Macer (Blunt) who is whisked away on a special task force dedicated to hunting down the head of a Mexican drug cartel. The film is comfortable exploring gray areas and dwelling in the nooks and crannies of the legal justice system, but ultimately cannot find any effective answers.
Denis Villeneuve week nears its end with his only true American film, and the largest budget he’s had to work with to date: the kidnapping mystery/thriller Prisoners. Of all of Villeneuve’s films, this may be the most uneasy, the most challenging to watch, and the one film that is truly unafraid of exploring the depths that humanity can reach at the intersection of desperation and good intention. Its subject matter is particularly challenging for parents, as it primarily deals with the disappearance of a pair of young girls.
Denis Villeneuve Week – Day 4: “Enemy” (Canada / Spain 2013)
Another day, another crazy Denis Villeneuve film to review. This time it is his first true English-language film, Enemy (as previously mentioned, Polytechnique was filmed in both French and English). Enemy feels most similar to Villeneuve’s early feature Maelström in that it has some amazing peculiarities but overall deals with a very human problem. In this case, it is the duality of man and his struggle to choose between two very different alternatives – both in his life, and his mind.
Denis Villeneuve Week continues here on Plot and Theme with Incendies, the final foreign language film from the director, and his only film to receive an Oscar nod (Best Foreign Language film in 2010). The film tells the story of twins who receive a cryptic message in their mother’s will: their father and brother are still alive, and the twins must seek them out and deliver letters to them. A circuitous journey through an unnamed Middle Eastern country commences, and as the twins untangle myth from fact amid civil and religious war, the truth of their mother’s life is beyond their wildest dreams – and nightmares.