De­nis Vil­leneuve goes from Sicario to sci-fi


“I AM VERY pleased with the re­cep­tion,” says direc­tor De­nis Vil­leneuve, on the phone to

Empire from Hun­gary. “I wasn’t able to leave my set, so I sent both my ac­tors there alone. If the movie had been badly re­ceived I would have felt very bad for them.”

“There” is the Venice Film Fes­ti­val. “The movie” is alien-vis­i­ta­tion drama Ar­rival, which was un­veiled in early Septem­ber to rap­tur­ous ap­plause. Star­ring Amy Adams and Jeremy Ren­ner, it sees a tal­ented lin­guist (Adams) ur­gently try­ing to as­cer­tain whether an alien ves­sel has come in peace. As for the film that pre­vented Vil­leneuve from bless­ing the Lido with his wry, Cana­dian pres­ence, it’s a lit­tle project known as Blade

Run­ner 2, cur­rently shoot­ing in Bu­da­pest. With the likes of Sicario and Pris­on­ers, the 48-year-old has forged a rep­u­ta­tion for stylish, emo­tion­ally grave thrillers. So why the sud­den shift into sci-fi?

Vil­leneuve laughs. “If you were to ask my friends, they would say, ‘How come you waited so long?’” He was raised on a diet of Philip K Dick, Arthur C Clarke and “a lot of Frank Her­bert”. Not for him, B-movie blasters and warp drives; he has longed to grap­ple with the grand, philo­soph­i­cal themes of Kubrick and Tarkovsky. “I am mak­ing the sci-fi I like,” he says. “Not so much about war, but about mankind’s es­sen­tial quest. It works as a metaphor for try­ing to un­der­stand re­al­ity.”

Based on the 1998 novella Story Of Your Life by Ted Chi­ang, Ar­rival asks the ques­tion: if an alien species turned up, how could we hope to com­mu­ni­cate? Where Close En­coun­ters Of The

Third Kind used mu­sic to par­ley, Ar­rival at­tempts to de­ci­pher an air­borne lan­guage like some­thing ex­haled from a Blade Run­ner chim­ney stack.

In Chi­ang’s tale, the aliens — or “hep­tapods” — are tow­er­ing, multi-limbed crea­tures with no dis­cernible front or back. Vil­leneuve wanted to con­vey a “pres­ence” he com­pares to an ele­phant in the mist, but ul­ti­mately like noth­ing from Earth. “I wanted to feel a higher in­tel­li­gence,” he ex­plains. “The feel­ing not of awe, but of ter­ror. They are the evo­ca­tion of death.”

He’s now tack­ling an even might­ier chal­lenge: how to recre­ate the in­dus­trio-ex­is­ten­tial­ist noir of Blade Run­ner. Set decades on, with LA spread out like cor­ro­sion, the se­quel stars Ryan Gosling and Harrison Ford, but the plot is still smogged in se­crecy. “It’s a very in­tense trip,” Vil­leneuve of­fers. “Ryan Gosling is in­sanely good and I am very in­spired, but that is a huge mon­ster.” Af­ter Ar­rival, there’s lit­tle doubt he will do a man’s job,

as Blade Run­ner’s gruff cop Gaff would say...

Clock­wise from main: The sci­en­tists take a bold step into alien ter­ri­tory; Amy Adams and Jeremy Ren­ner at­tempt to crack the code; The team await a higher in­tel­li­gence; a stat­uesque space­craft hov­ers omi­nously above Earth.

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