Monday, April 1, 2019

Claire Denis' "High Life" at SIFF Cinema: Apr 12 - 25

Thematically variegated, from explorations of masculine camaraderie, observations on the post-Colonial landscape of both Africa and Paris, to sharp edged gender relations, neo-noir thrillers, and strange science run amok, Claire Denis' filmography navigates the spaces between traditional narrative and more structurally adventurous cinema. Consistently fashioning an interplay of the gravitational pulls inherent in the corresponding genres. Denis is herself a complex and irreducible intellect, as made clear in recent interviews on both gender representation in Cannes, and the wider field of women artists, "Claire Denis: ‘I Couldn’t Care Less About the Weinstein Affair'". As well as speaking specifically on her most recent film, it's unusual subject matter, and science fiction as a vehicle for plumbing themes of sexuality and violence, for the Irish Times, "‘We are Normal People. Even Though We are French’". Recent representations of her craft can be seen in 2008's masterpiece on class, race and urban life, conveyed through light and motion that was "35 Shots of Rum", and 2014's pitch perfect neo-noir, "Bastards". The latter bringing it's audience deep into the nightmare of one family's decomposition from the inside with it's contact with power, corruption and an immoral elite. In a sense all of her work can be seen as, "Family Films of a Very Different Sort". Another constant of her work, one that she shares with the best of her peers, (think David Lynch, Steve McQueen, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang) is the elliptical nature of it's narrative and visual structure. Looping back on itself, projecting ahead, fusing impression, experience and dream, these structural and thematic signatures are abundantly detailed in Nick Pinkerton's Claire Denis interview for Film Comment and Senses of Cinema's "Dancing Reveals So Much: An Interview with Claire Denis".

A crowning point from Cannes 2017, she delivered a subtly pointed observations of contemporary French life in, "Let the Sunshine In". This elegant, eccentric relationship comedy of ideas on middle age, expressed itself with an almost inscrutable sophistication, "Un Beau Soleil Interieur: Juliette Binoche Excels". Taking a typically dynamic about-turn, Denis then delivered "High Life" the following year after its long gestation. Premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival, this most recent entry in "The Fearless Cinema of Claire Denis", represents an even deeper plumbing of genre, as it, "Takes Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche on an Erotic Space Odyssey as a Mesmerizing Look into the Void". Along its course, bridging such improbably collaborators as Icelandic media artist Olafur Eliasson and an early draft of the screenplay by Zadie Smith. Initially intending Philip Seymour Hoffman in its lead role, "High Life" is the second collaboration with Eliasson after 2014's "Contact", and stands as Denis' explicit foray into hard science fiction. In form for the director, "Claire Denis Talks on Her Long Path to Filmmaking", offering insight into the project's development, the inhospitable nature of space, and the film's themes of sex, control and confinement, "Claire Denis on High Life, Robert Pattinson, and Putting Juliette Binoche in a “F*ckbox”. The film's multifaceted tensions succinctly delineated in Charles Bramesco's Toronto review, "High Life: Orgasmic Brilliance in Deepest Space with Robert Pattinson" for The Guardian; "Denis proposes the erotic drive as the fuel to use when there’s nothing left to live for. In the negative zone beyond the stratosphere, depicted as a physical glitch humankind was never meant to explore, severe isolation returns the brain to its basest biological capacity. Every day is a battle to stay sane (less apparent among Denis’ feats here is that she has casually constructed a remorselessly honest look into the psychological ramifications of incarceration)."