Sunday, November 20, 2016

Denis Villeneuve's new film "Arrival" at SIFF Cinema: Nov 11 - Dec 15

Early reviews from the Venice Film Festival, Toronto, and a strong showing in this year's Telluride programming, covered by the New York Times' "Cinema is Dead? Telluride Says Not Yet", establish there's a lot more to Denis Villeneuve's tendency in his recent films to "Lean In to Strong Heroines". As is displayed in his adaptation of Nebula award winner, Ted Chaing's "Story of Your Life". The intergalactic sentiment of "Arrival" is somewhat akin to that of a more soundly constructed "Interstellar", populated by characters who's inner lives speak to the film's conceptual, philosophical core. Their shared endeavor set against a global backdrop of post-Cold War geopolitics and events not unlike those depicted in the now-classic, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind". Yet "Arrival" stands as more than derivation-done-well. Those films only acting as functional touch-points of reference to which Villeneuve, cinematographer Bradford Young, and screen adaptation by Eric Heisserer, have assembled their intricately woven, often remarkable science fiction thriller. Villeneuve clearly knows his genre film of decades past, accruing a weighty suspense, he takes his time before revealing his leviathan and the visitors who inhabit it's monolithic edifice. The unfolding of the narrative is stately and elegant, its pace, sober and deliberate. Even once established in one of the more credible "fist contact" sequences in recent cinema history, as events unspool, we can sense that like Adams' linguist protagonist, we do not entirely comprehend them, or the literally alien motivations that underpin the extraterrestrial visitation. As the film progresses, the anxiety over the visitor's intentions and the anticipation of the unknown are balanced more towards the first of the two impulses. On the surface, as The New York Times review suggests, "Aliens Drop Anchor in ‘Arrival,’ but What Are Their Intentions?", Villeneuve stages a dilemma where the desire for knowledge clashes with instincts of fear and hostility.

Incrementally the substructure of the exchange between worlds is revealed to be time and our linear experience of it. This premise, as explored in the film, is constructed around the Theory of Linguistic Relativity, referring to the hypothesis that the structure of a language affects its speakers’ cognition or worldview. Considered praise from Jonathan Romney in his Film of the Week review for Film Comment, concerning these questions of time, memory, and human choice, which are central not only to the film’s narrative but focus and give credibility to its moral architecture. This is precisely the kind of speculative fiction, as put forward in reviews like The Telegraph's "Dazzling Science-Fiction from Denis Villeneuve" and The Atlantic's "The Epic Intimacy of 'Arrival'", that successfully bridges the cosmic and personal, a conceptual expanse that Christopher Nolan's outer space epic largely failed to traverse. Special commendation in it's lending of sensory tangibility to the film's fantastical premise, and dynamic tension as it progresses from a pervasive state of the unknown, also needs to be given to the the elements of the soundtrack, audio design and score by neoclassical composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. Collider's interview on the film and his forthcoming collaboration with the director while "Preparing to Score ‘Blade Runner 2049'" detail his work utilizing the exquisite intonations of Theater of Voices, conducted by Paul Hillier. Beyond the soundtrack, the commodious auditory environment of it's two hour duration also featuring excerpts from Max Richter's 2004 electro-acoustic album, "The Blue Notebooks", alongside the exceptional audio design work of film's sound department under Claude La Haye and Bernard Gariépy Strobl. The Quietus discusses "A Kind Of Visceral Quality: Jóhann Jóhannsson’s Favourite Records", which like the score, epitomize a philosophy of minimal gestures with maximum impact, illustrated further in interview for FACT Mag's, "Jóhann Jóhannsson on 'Orphée' and His Biggest Challenge Yet".