Film Talk · Why are we not talking more about...

Why aren’t we talking more about…Denis Villeneuve

This week saw the release of ‘Arrival’, Villeneuve’s latest film. It’s one I’d been much anticipating and the early reviews were so promising. I’m happy to report that it blew me away. The kind of film that you love on a first viewing but that you know you’ll need to see again to properly take in everything. Had my cinema had another showing of it, I would happily have gone straight back in.

Sci-fi is a genre that is meant to wow and amaze you. To push boundaries, to force you to ask questions that may have not have just one, defined answer. ‘Arrival’ executed that almost perfectly. I’ve seen it referred to as this generation’s ‘Close encounter of the third kind’ and I can see why. I think it says a lot more than that though. At the core of this sci-fi story was humanity. It’s a clever, clever film and yes, some of the twists and parts of the plot you can see coming, but its storytelling and direction make it incredibly enjoyable to see unfold regardless. The narrative isn’t always entirely linear, but the shifting time was never confusing and the way they intersected was brilliant.

I’m planning to write a full, loaded review and thoughts on the film. That won’t be able to avoid spoilers, proper discussion of the film would seem impossible without going into the plot. I’d recommend anybody to see this though, particularly with the world we currently find ourselves in.

By now I know that when going to a Villeneuve film, I can expect directorial flair. The cinematography, this time by Bradford Young, worked well with his direction and this was a pleasure to look at. As are all of his films to be fair. The design for the Heptapods and the ships was wonderful. I loved the written language of the Heptapods too, like the most gorgeous kind of calligraphy mixed with octopus ink. It seems important that a film about communication can successfully communicate all of its ideas to its audience, and it managed. This marked the first time in a cinema for an age where nobody was talking or using their mobile phones. I could just have got lucky, but I’d like to believe it was because people were simply captivated by what was happening onscreen.

My first introduction to the director came in the form of ‘Incendies’ though, and as much as I enjoyed the film, I don’t remember particularly associating it with Villeneuve or tracking his career that much (stupidly). That wasn’t his first feature film either. Little did I know that another film would see him shoot straight into my list of favourite directors. That came with his 2013 effort, ‘Prisoners’. The harrowing drama blew me away and I absolutely had to know who directed it and what else they’d done/would be doing. It’s not the easiest of watches but it’s a fantastic piece of cinema. Superb direction, performances and pieced together so well. I told everybody about it and still recommend it now if I spot it on television or coming up. I’ve been meaning to do a double bill of this with ‘Zodiac’ for two detective turns by Jake Gyllenhaal that are both visually arresting and powerful stories. I think they’d make good companion pieces. Incredibly strong performances from Paul Dano and Hugh Jackman also help. This film was one of the only ones where a female character wasn’t the central focus, or lead. Villeneuve’s films are particularly notable for starring, and well treating, its female characters.

‘Enemy’ followed. A very different kind of film, the only thing it has in common with ‘Prisoners’ being the wonderful Gyllenhaal and again, a heavier focus on a male character. Again, it’s a striking film, the shot of the giant spiders walking through the city a particularly memorable one. This didn’t spoon feed you anything and it’s fascinating just how many different interpretations people took away from watching this. It didn’t quite top his previous film for me, but I still very much enjoyed it. A film where the second time is a charm, you’ll want to spend some time getting your head around it all.

Then came ‘Sicario’. My film of 2015, I’ve probably bored people to death about just how much I love it. Of films released in the last five years, it’s probably the only one (aside from Cap 2: Winter Soldier) I’ve revisited more than three times already. It shot straight into my all-time top 5 and I’m still to find a fault with it. Featuring one of the best opening scenes, it rarely lets off from that point on in terms of the tension. It’s a film where every single shot is practically perfect and I want Roger Deakins to team up with Villeneuve more (this was their second after Prisoners but we’ll come onto that shortly!). It’s got a great cast (again, more Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro acting together please), intriguing story and a soundtrack that I loved so much I bought the vinyl for it. It stayed with me afterwards because of the scenes it depicts and it managed to make a traffic jam so ridiculously tense. I just remember leaning forward in my seat during it and almost letting out a sigh of relief at the end. It did the smart job of raising a lot of questions, but leaving the answers up to you. I’d recommend watching it in a double bill with documentary ‘Cartel Land’.

With ‘Arrival’, the director continued a trend of making films that you keep thinking about after watching them. I spent days thinking about his last effort and I’ve already spent the 24 hours since seeing Arrival thinking about it and its ideas. For me, a mark of a great film (rather than just one I enjoyed) is that it makes you think. It doesn’t insult your intelligence and allows you to draw your own conclusions and answers. He appears to have a great relationship with those he works with, evident from the fact that the same people want to keep making films with him. Johann Johannsson has done the score/soundtrack for three of Villeneuve’s films, my favourites coincidentally, ‘Prisoners’, ‘Sicario’ and ‘Arrival’ and they’re brilliant every time. I’ve only been able to listen to this latest release’s score a couple of times away from the film so far and it doesn’t disappoint. It was tense and overbearing at times and a couple of the pieces seemed to tap in to the linguistic angle of the film.

Villeneuve will likely make the headlines one way or another next year as he’s at the helm of the sequel for Bladerunner. So far he’s not let me down with anything and with Ryan Gosling starring, there’s hope that this could be great and not ruin the masterpiece that is Ridley Scott’s original. He’s also back with Roger Deakins, who’ll be in charge of making it look incredible. I was concerned but now I’m just excited. Having made a great, and slightly different, sci-fi film, it certainly looks encouraging.

I remember reading an interview where the director spoke of his love for James Bond and how he’d love to be able to do a Bond film in his career. If he could do that, and get Deakins back to be the cinematographer, well, we might just find a Bond that could top Skyfall for me!

Essentially I’d quite happily buy a ticket in advance for this guy’s next five films. I wouldn’t need to know what genre they fit into or who was in them. His films so far have been simply that good.


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