Thursday, August 30, 2018
The Auteurs #68: Denis Villeneuve
Among the few filmmakers currently working in Hollywood that is making the kind of films they wouldn’t make, Denis Villeneuve has a unique place in cinema right now with his mixture of intense drama and surrealism as well as a fascination with the idea of death. While he started out slowly through a series of shorts and films in his native Canada that played to a limited audience. He would later emerge as an unlikely visionary for big studios despite the many risks he would take to get films made despite their lack of major commercial appeal. Even as he is about to embark on tackling an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novel Dune in the hopes that he can bring something new to that story.
Born on October 3, 1967 in Becancour in the region of Quebec in Canada, Denis Villeneuve was the son of Nicole Demers and Jean Villeneuve where they lived in the French-speaking region of Quebec as Denis would later gain a younger brother 11 years in Martin who would also become a filmmaker and a graphic novelist. Villeneuve in his teens would attend the Seminaire Saint-Joseph de Trois-Rivieres private school and later the Universite du Quebec a Montreal where he became interested in the world of film. In the early 1990s, Villeneuve took part in Radio-Canada’s youth competition in film where he would win a prize through a student film he made in La Course Destination Monde.
REW-FFWD/Cosmos-Le Technetium segment
In 1994, Villeneuve made a short film about a photographer who goes to Jamaica for an assignment where he gets to know the culture in the area known as Trenchtown as he thinks about what his boss wants as it play into the many troubling stereotypes of what is to expect from Jamaica. The short is told in a non-linear style as it relates to ideas of flashbacks and flash-forwards where the protagonist is never seen where Villeneuve chooses to shoot everything from the character’s perspective. The short would garner lots of attention from producers in Canada as they wanted Villeneuve to take part in a project that would be a sequel to the 1991 anthology film Montreal vu par… (Montreal Stories) that featured short films by such revered Canadian filmmakers like Atom Egoyan and Denys Arcand. For its follow-up, Villeneuve would be one of six emerging filmmakers to take part in the project.
The film entitled Cosmos would each feature six segments that would involve a Greek immigrant cab driver in Montreal who would meet six different characters as they live their lives in the city. Among these stories include the work of a serial killer who is about to make his next move while other stories involve a lawyer trying to get back with her ex-boyfriend, a young woman hanging out with a gay friend as he awaits the results of an AIDS test, the cab driver and another man trying to find a stolen cab, and a young woman who celebrates her 20th birthday with an older man. Villeneuve’s segment involves a filmmaker who is about to appear on an edgy TV talk show as he becomes anxious over promoting his new film. The film would utilize a crisscross narrative of sorts that would play into the events of a day through these six different stories as Villeneuve’s segment play into the absurdity of 1990s TV talk shows in their attempts to be edgy and cool.
The film was released in November of 1996 in Canada where it got a good critical reception as it was chosen to represent Canada at the upcoming Oscars in the hopes it would get a Best Foreign Film Nomination. The film didn’t garner the Oscar nod though it would be nominated a year later at the Genie Awards for Best Picture in which it lost to Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter.
August 32nd on Earth
Through his connection with producer Roger Frappier who produced Cosmos, Villeneuve was given the chance to make his first feature-length film with Frappier’s full support as it would revolve around a woman whose near-death experience forces her to make some drastic decisions in her life. The film would play into not just Villeneuve’s fascination with death but also the need to not show everything as it would be set in a strange world that has expanded months as it’s set partially in Montreal as well as Salt Lake City. With Villeneuve writing the film from his own screenplay, he would get the service of cinematographer Andre Turpin who also shot Villeneuve’s segment from Cosmos and directed his own piece while Villeneuve also got Alexis Martin to play the male lead in the film as he also appeared in Cosmos.
For the female lead role, French-Canadian actress Pascale Bussieres was cast in the lead role of Simone Prevost as the woman who survived a car accident. The film would be shot on location in Montreal as it would be a location that Villeneuve would shoot many of his films for much of his early parts of his career. With Turpin being an early collaborator of Villeneuve for this film and a few more to follow, Villeneuve aimed for a naturalistic yet colorful look for the film as it play into this sense of unknown. Villeneuve would shoot much of the film’s second half in Salt Lake City, Utah at the Bonneville Salt Flat as well as the city’s airport. Villeneuve’s usage of wide shots that would become a common framing device that he would utilize for his career would show a lot into the environment the characters are in which would include a hilarious futuristic room made by the Japanese.
The film premiered in May of 1998 at the Cannes Film Festival in France where it played at the Un Certain Regarde section where it got good reviews. The film’s release in Canada later that November where it was well-received as it would be Canada’s selection to be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Oscars yet it wouldn’t make the final cut of nominees. The film would give Smith the Prix Jutra for Best Actor from the Quebec film industry as it would help bring visibility to Villeneuve.
Gaining some clout from his debut film, Villeneuve wanted to push his limits further by making another film that revolves on a car accident as it’s more about the idea of guilt, anguish, and fate. Yet, Villeneuve also wanted to include elements of surrealism into his work as it would deviate from many of the conventional aspects of romantic dramas. Even as the film would revolve around a woman who unravels following an abortion as she struggles to overcome her addiction to drugs and alcohol where she accidentally hits a man with her car only for that man to die days later at his home. It was an idea that Villeneuve thought about during the making of his first film but discarded it feeling it didn’t fit with the narrative as it would turn into another story. While eating at a seafood place in Montreal, Villeneuve got inspiration through a bad bout of food poisoning after eating some bad trout that gave him the idea of a fish to tell the story of what is happening to this woman and her eventually affair with a man whose father she accidentally killed.
The project would once again be set almost entirely in Montreal as Villeneuve gathered cinematographer Andre Turpin on board to shoot the film while the casting would include the emerging French-Canadian actress Marie-Josee Croze in the lead role of Bibiane Champagne. Villeneuve would get veteran actor Pierre Lebeau to do the voice of the fish narrator as it would be used with animatronics. TV actor Jean-Nicholas Verrault would play the role of Evian who is the son of the man Bibiane accidentally killed with Stephanie Morgenstern played the part of Bibiane’s best friend Claire. Shooting began in September of 1999 in a two-month shoot as it would explore a woman’s grief and guilt where Villeneuve would also show something that is happening but not the whole picture as it would be a method he would use for much of his narrative in future films to come.
The film would also have Villeneuve take risks visually in terms of Turpin’s cinematography as well as emphasizing on offbeat music choices like he did in his previous films. For a film that is bleak, the usage of Good Morning Starshine from the musical Hair would be another of Villeneuve’s trademarks to create something that is weird for some of the film’s bleakest moments. Yet, it also showcases a filmmaker also wanting to create a sense of intrigue as the appearances of fish is prevalent throughout the film. Even in a scene where Bibiane and Claire eat rotten octopus as they wonder why it tastes so bad where Villeneuve showcase different perspectives as it all relates to the narrative at hand.
The film made its premiere in late August of 2000 at the Montreal World Film Festival that weeks later at the Toronto Film Festival in its Perspective Canada section. The film would receive excellent reviews as well as being a hit in various film festivals. The film would also garner accolades winning five Genies for Best Film, Best Actress for Croze, Turpin’s cinematography, and two awards for Villeneuve for his screenplay and direction. In early 2001, the film made its U.S. premiere at the Sundance Film Festival that January followed by an appearance at the Berlin Film Festival a month later where it won the festival’s FIPRESCI prize. Despite its acclaim and success, Villeneuve wasn’t happy with the outcome of the film as he chose to go on a sabbatical from filmmaker just as his family life was to emerge.
120 Seconds to Get Elected/Next Floor
During what was to be a nine-year break from feature films, Villeneuve would spend that period trying to figure out what he wanted to do in the world of film. On this sabbatical from filmmaker, Villeneuve decided to craft a series of experimental short films to express his need to do something new. The first of these shorts would have Alexis Martin play a politician speaking behind a blank white wall to superimposed stock footage of crowds as if he’s spouting ideas that would get him elected. The two-minute short would showcase not just Villeneuve’s penchant for surrealism but also some of the absurdity and realism that play into the fallacy of politics and what politicians will do to get elected even through ideas of Fascism.
Next Floor from Centre Phi | Phi Centre on Vimeo.
In 2008 during a break for what was to become his next feature film, Villeneuve teamed up with screenwriter Jacques Davidts in creating a short film that expressed his idea of gluttony and human consumerism. Teaming up with cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc and film editor Sophie LeBlond for the short, it would be about a group of servants who are serving a group of posh people who are eating a banquet of meat that becomes excessive. The eleven-minute short would be a mixture of dramatic horror with elements of offbeat humor as it would have this element of repetition into what happens to the people that are eating the food. The short made its premiere at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival as part of its International Critics Week short film section as it won the Canal+ short film prize as it would continue to be a hit at film festivals giving Villeneuve some newfound confidence following a period away from films.
Following this hiatus period from filmmaking, Villeneuve was asked by French-Canadian actress Karine Vanasse if he was interested in making a film about the 1989 Ecole Polytechnique massacre as she had wanted to make a film about the massacre for years. While there was uncertainty on whether or not audiences were ready for a film about the massacre that featured the death of 14 women and raised questions on violence against women and gun control in Canada. Villeneuve agreed to take part on the project as it relates to his fascination with death but also the sense of immediacy as he teamed up with screenwriter Jacques Davidts who would write the script with Villeneuve and Eric Leca on ideas to tell this story.
Aware that a dramatization of the massacre wouldn’t be entirely accurate as well as the idea of shooting the film on the actual Ecole Polytechnique wouldn’t be a good idea despite the school allowing Villeneuve to shoot on the location. Villeneuve instead chose to shoot the film at two different schools in College Ahuntsic and College de Maisonneuve with cinematographer Pierre Gill on board for the production. Vanasse would play one of the survivors for the film as the cast would include other French-Canadian actors in Sebastien Huberdeau, Evelyne Brochu, Johanne-Marie Tremblay, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, and Maxim Gaudette as a fictionalized take of the gunman Marc Lepine who name in the film isn’t mentioned. Wanting to avoid many of the visual conventions of films based on real-life events while being aware that the film would be compared to Gus Van Sant’s 2003 film Elephant which was based on the 1999 Columbine school shootings. Villeneuve and Gill agreed to shoot the film in black-and-white film stock in order to create something that was striking but also maintain that graphic idea of the film’s violence.
Utilizing hand-held cameras for some of the film’s violent moments as well as dolly-tracking shots in order to get an idea of the fear from students as they run from the violence. On the locations at the schools where the film would be set, Villeneuve would use wide shots to get a scope of the main halls as well as something haunting when these hallways, lunch room halls, and such become empty in the aftermath of the violence. Villeneuve also wanted to make the film be about not just the massacre but also study the idea of guilt as it relates to a couple of survivors of the massacre and how they dealt with loss afterwards. Even as Villeneuve wanted to get an idea from the perspective of the gunman that includes the classroom scene which is presented from his perspective and the perspective of a survivor.
Before the film’s theatrical release in February of 2009 in Quebec followed by a limited release for the rest of Canada a month later with two different versions with his preferred release in French and a more general version in English. Villeneuve chose to screen the film for families of the victims as he was given their blessing for its release. While the film did draw rave reviews all over Canada, it did raise controversy over its depiction of violence yet it was successful in Quebec and did modestly well in Canada despite its limited release. Later that May, the film played at the Cannes Film Festival as part of the Director’s Fortnight as it was well-received from various film festivals in Europe. The film’s U.S. release came two years later as it was also well-received despite comparisons to Elephant as the film would help raise Villeneuve’s profile following his long hiatus from filmmaking.
With the clout he’s been given from his last film, Villeneuve went ahead to resurrect an idea he had during his hiatus when he saw Wajda Mouawad’s play about Canadian twins who travel to the Middle East following their mother’s death in the search of the identity of their father. Villeneuve was transfixed by the play as he spent years writing the screenplay with collaborator Valerie Beaugrand-Champagne while wanting input from Mouawad who was reluctant about having his play adapted into a film. While Mouawad’s play was based on events during the Lebanese Civil War, Villeneuve agreed to set the film in an unnamed Middle Eastern country as it played into adult twins learning about their mother’s past and all of its complexities. Even as it’s a film with a narrative that is told from the perspective of their mother and moves back to the twin children as they try to uncover so much of who their mother is as well as the identity of their father.
Reuniting with cinematographer Andre Turpin as they last worked together on Maelstrom, the film would be set largely in Montreal with additional shooting set in Jordan. For the lead role of Nawal, Moroccan-Belgian actress Lubna Azabal was cast while Maxim Gaudette and Melissa Desmormeaux-Poulin were cast as her twin adult children with Azabal using makeup to play an older version of herself. Remy Girard was cast as a notary as the production began in late 2009 with a $6.5 million budget as it was to be Villeneuve’s most expensive film to date on a 40-day shoot as 15 of the shooting days were set in Jordan.
For the scenes set in Jordan, Villeneuve and Turpin used a crew from both Lebanon and Iraq as a way to get a perspective of what it was like at the Lebanese Civil War as it include scenes of conflict relating to Nawal as she saw Christian nationalists kill Muslim women. Villeneuve would also include a rape scene that has Nawal being raped but the identity of her rapist is not revealed as it adds the intrigue and ambiguity that Villeneuve wanted. Even as he plays into the concept of less is more which was a method that he had been wanting to do much of his filmmaking as the unveiled identity of the twin children’s father isn’t just a punch to the gut but also raises more questions than answers.
The film made its premiere on September 2010 through various film festivals such as Telluride in Colorado as well as Venice and Toronto as it received rave reviews from audiences and critics. Following the film’s release in Canada where it made $4 million which was considered a success by Canadian box office standards, the film would be Canada’s submission for the Best Foreign Language film at the Oscars as it the film would get a nomination as well as a subsequent U.S. release in 2011 through Sony Picture Classics where the film would win the runner-up prize as Best Foreign Language Film from the New York Film Critics Circle. The film would gross more than $6 million in the U.S. with a total worldwide gross of over $16 million giving Villeneuve his first major commercial success.
Rated R for Nudity/Etude empirique sur l’influence du son sur la persistence retinienne
Shortly after the release of Incendies, Villeneuve took a break between projects as he decided to take part on a couple of experimental short films in 2011. The first of which was a three-minute short that has Villeneuve create an idea based on hypnosis and psychology where he just plastered words on a screen. The short was with a warning for those who suffer from epilepsy as it play into Villeneuve’s fondness for the abstract. The second short film he made that year was a one-minute short that also played with images as it was similar to its predecessor but with the sound of a punk band playing to blaring images.
Following a brief break from films in which Villeneuve was starting work on another film project in Canada, he was approached by producers about helming a project based on Aaron Guzikowski’s short story about the abduction of two girls and the search for the two girls from one of the fathers and a detective. Guzikowski would turn the short story into a full-length script that attracted many people including actors Christian Bale and Leonardo DiCaprio as well as filmmakers Antoine Fuqua and Bryan Singer. Yet, it was actor Mark Wahlberg who got it off the ground as a producer as other producers were able to contact Villeneuve on the project. Although Villeneuve was already filming another project, he eventually said yes to the film as the project would mark his first collaboration with the famed British cinematographer Roger Deakins who was famous largely for his collaboration with the Coen Brothers.
Villeneuve gave Guzikowski’s script to actor Jake Gyllenhaal whom Villeneuve was working with as Gyllenhaal agreed to play the role of Detective Loki. The film would also be Villeneuve’s first film with an American studio where he would also get the services of film editors Joel Cox and Gary D. Roach who were both known for their collaboration with Clint Eastwood as the film would also mark another first for Villeneuve in getting the service of music composer Johann Johansson. The film’s cast would include Hugh Jackman, Maria Bello, Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Paul Dano, and Melissa Leo as production began in the state of Georgia in February of 2013. Villeneuve wanted to maintain that air of intrigue in not just the visuals but also play into the complexities of the mystery.
One aspect of the script that intrigued Villeneuve is the diverging paths between Detective Loki and Hugh Jackman’s character of Keller Dover in their search for the latter’s daughter and another young girl. Both of which involve ideas of obsession and determination as Detective Loki is a man that is more focused on this case where he would make some unsettling discoveries relating to abductions in this small town he lives in. Dover would become a man lost in his obsession as he suspects a young man whom he believed had abducted his daughter where he would torture him for information leading to all sorts of trouble.
The film made its premiere in late August of 2013 at the Telluride Film Festival where it was well-received as it was followed by more festival appearances before getting its general release in U.S. theaters less than a month later. The film would gross more than $122 million against its $46 million budget giving Villeneuve some major clout commercially while the film would also get great notices from critics though there were some who felt the film was too conventional in terms of its suspense. Still, the film did gain an Oscar nomination for Deakins’ cinematography as well as some accolades including a prize for its ensemble cast from the National Board of Review who also put the film in the top-10 list of best films of 2013.
Before Villeneuve was to embark on Prisoners, he was already developing a project that was to be based on Jose Saramago’s novel The Double as it revolves around a college professor who learns that there’s an actor who looks exactly like him as he wants to know who he is. Villeneuve was interested in the project due to its idea of identity and intrigue as he asked screenwriter Javier Gullon to create a script as it would contain elements of surrealism where Villeneuve would shoot the film at Toronto. Notably as Villeneuve wanted to include the images of spiders into the film based on Louise Bourgeois’ sculpture Maman at the city of Ottawa as they would appear in some form throughout the film.
For the casting, Villeneuve chose Jake Gyllenhaal to play the role of the college professor Adam Bell and his double in the actor Anthony Claire while French actress Melanie Laurent would play Bell’s girlfriend and Canadian actress Sarah Gadon as Claire’s pregnant wife. Isabella Rossellini would have a small role as Bell’s mother as production began in late May 2012 with cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc shooting the film. Villeneuve would maintain something straightforward in terms of some of the dramatic elements but also wanted to play into the idea of duality on a visual sense as it play into these clashing personalities of Bell and Claire with a gigantic version of Bourgeois’ sculpture walking on top of Toronto. Spiders would become a recurring image that appears throughout the film such as an opening scene as Villeneuve and Gullon wanted to maintain that idea of surrealistic symbolism into the personalities of the protagonists.
The sense of ambiguity also play into what Villeneuve wants such as the scene of Bell meeting his mother and asking questions yet he ends up getting no answers as it adds more intrigue. Even as Bell sees Claire’s wife where he wonders about her as it leads to the more arrogant Claire to try and ruin Bell’s life. Especially in Claire’s need to control lives and the fates of those around him and in Bell’s life where it sort of play into the nature of the spider whenever they feel threatened. Even as Villeneuve would use the symbol of the spider to create this air of mystery that includes the film’s ending as it relates to the spider.
Following a small shooting schedule and a break from the post-production to shoot Prisoners, Villeneuve premiered the film at the 2013 Toronto Film Festival that September where Prisoners was also screened. The film drew excellent reviews in its festival release before getting its theatrical release in Canada in March of 2014 that was also released in Spain weeks later as the film was a co-production of Canadian and Spain production companies. Following the film’s U.S. release a few months later through the A24 film company, the film would be given a limited release yet would draw rave reviews though some critics were confounded by the film’s surrealistic elements.
Following the theatrical release of Prisoners in late 2013 while finding a distributor for Enemy, Villeneuve was offered the chance to helm a long-gestating project in development from screenwriter Taylor Sheridan about the U.S. and their war on drugs. Villeneuve agreed to take part of the film as he brought along cinematographer Roger Deakins and music composer Johann Johansson on board for the production. Villeneuve also worked with closely with Sheridan on developing the story as it would revolve around a young FBI agent who works with a government task force to take down a drug cartel as she deals with the dangers of her new job.
British actress Emily Blunt joined the cast in April of 2014 in the lead role of the FBI agent Kate Mercer while Benicio del Toro, Josh Brolin, Daniel Kaluuya, Jeffrey Donovan, and Victor Garber took part in the film’s ensemble cast with the help of casting director Francine Maisler who would become part of Villeneuve’s recurring group of collaborators. The production would be set mainly in Albuquerque, New Mexico and El Paso, Texas as well as nearby locations in those cities as well as locations in Mexico to get an air of realism into the heaviness that is the war on drugs from the U.S. and Mexico’s troubling involvement. Shooting began in June 2014 as Villeneuve and Deakins aimed for a naturalistic approach for the look of the film that include some scenes in the deserts as well as in some of the film’s real locations in Mexico.
The film was given a $30 million budget as it was to be Villeneuve’s most expensive film to date with Lionsgate being the film’s distributor as the backing of a major studio and its modest budget would give Villeneuve the chance to showcase this world of conflict relating to drug cartels. Especially as the character of Mercer who is an idealist is forced to realize the dark aspects of the drug war and the U.S. government’s involvement with those having a more personal interest in this conflict. Particularly as the film’s title means hitman in Spanish as it relates to the character that del Toro plays as someone who knows what has to be done yet is also aware that Mercer is in a world that is extremely cynical and violent as he understands her issues with these methods.
The film premiered in May of 2015 at the Cannes Film Festival where it played in competition for the Palme d’Or as it got rave reviews that would follow during the film’s run at film festivals including its Canadian premiere that September at the Toronto Film Festival. The film was later given a limited U.S. release later that month as it went wide a month later grossing nearly $47 million in the U.S. box office with a worldwide gross of nearly $85 million. The film would also be a hit with critics as it would receive three Oscar nominations for Deakins’ cinematography, Johansson’s score, and Alan Robert Murray’s sound editing.
With a couple of films being commercial successes as well as being a favorite with film critics and film buffs alike, Villeneuve would use this clout to getting attached to any project he wanted to be in. Given his love for sci-fi, Villeneuve wanted to make a film in that genre yet he had been unable to find the right idea until producers brought him Eric Heisserer’s script which was based on Ted Chiang’s short story in Story of Your Life. The script had been through development hell for years as Villeneuve read this story about a linguist who is asked by U.S. military officials to communicate with aliens who had arrived on Earth with the help of others who want to know why the aliens are here. The story itself was complex as Villeneuve was on board with Heisserer’s script also wanting to use ideas of linguistics and physics theories to be important to the film for the characters to find a way to communicate with the aliens. Villeneuve asked production designer Patrice Vermette whose wife Martine Bertrand was knowledgeable with linguistics as they got her help for the film as well as several others including Jessica Coon from the Canada Research Chair.
For the casting, Francine Maisler got Amy Adams for the lead role of Louise Banks while the ensemble would include Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Tzi Ma. With cinematographer Roger Deakins unavailable to shoot the film, Bradford Young was given the task to shoot the film as he and Villeneuve worked on ideas for the visuals as shooting began in June 2015 as it was mainly set in Montreal with scenes set in the mountains and fields of the nearby town of St. Fabien-sur-Mer as Montana. Villeneuve wanted to maintain an air of melancholia for the scenes set outside of the alien spaceship as it play into Banks’ own sense of loss as well as the usage of time where Villeneuve and Heisserer wanted to create the idea of flashbacks as it played into Banks’ desire to find some common ground with these aliens with Renner’s Ian Donnelly helping her as well as be a bit of the film’s comic relief.
The scenes set inside the spaceship had a more dream-like yet mysterious look as Villeneuve didn’t want to really show the look of the aliens initially in order to create more intrigue. Especially as Banks and Donnelly would have no clue on what they look like other than communicating through some form of linguistics and languages despite the apprehension of others including a few countries who believe the aliens are hostile as well as individuals who listen to some form of propaganda that would cause trouble. With composer Johann Johansson creating music loops and textures to play up the drama, Villeneuve would also use the idea of time in the drama as it relate to what Banks is trying to find and unleash this idea of hope for a world that can come together through the gift that these aliens want to bring.
The film premiered at the Venice Film Festival in early September of 2016 to great acclaim with Villeneuve receiving the Future Film Festival Digital Award as it would become a festival hit before its theatrical release from Paramount in November. The film would be Villeneuve’s biggest success to date critically and commercially grossing more than $200 million against its $47 million budget while it would receive eight Oscar nominations including Best Picture and a Best Director nod for Villeneuve while the film would win an Oscar for Sylvain Bellemare’s sound editing.
Blade Runner 2049
When news emerged in 2011 about the possible idea for a sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi film Blade Runner, there a mixture of excitement and apprehension over the idea of a sequel as it went into development with Scott possibly taking on the role of directing the sequel as well as being a producer of the film. The next few years of developing the project as well as trying to get Harrison Ford to reprise his role as Rick Deckard was becoming difficult despite the work on the script by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green that was based on a story from the former who had also co-wrote the script of the original film with David Peoples. During its development as Scott was already doing other films, he decided to step down from the director’s chair while remaining on board as a producer. After search for getting a filmmaker on board, Villeneuve officially signed on for the project in February of 2015 just as he was finishing up work on Sicario and preparing work on Arrival.
Villeneuve’s involvement would bring in Ryan Gosling in the role of the replicant cop K as Villeneuve brought in cinematographer Roger Deakins, casting director Francine Maisler, and composer Johann Johansson for the project. With plans for a 2018 release at the latest, Villeneuve spent years working with Fancher and Green on the script as well as the casting as he was hoping to get David Bowie in the role of the antagonist Niander Wallace but that all changed following Bowie’s death in January of 2016 as the role eventually went to Jared Leto. The cast would expand to include Robin Wright, Mackenzie Davis, Ana de Armas, Carla Juri Hiam Abbass, David Dastmalchian, Barkhad Abdi, Dave Bautista, Sylvia Hoeks, and appearances from Edward James Olmos and Sean Young reprising their roles from the original film.
Production finally began in July of 2016 in studios at Budapest with a budget ranging from $150 million to $185 million which was to be the most expensive film that Villeneuve would make. The film would revolve around a replicant police officer who would make a major discovery that may spell the end of humanity as he tries to find Rick Deckard for answers. Villeneuve’s fascination for mystery and intrigue is what would appeal to making the film as he would use the futuristic setting that play into K’s desire for answers as well as wondering if replicants like him can be just as human as other human beings. It also play into existential ideas as well as loss and memory that would intensify as the story progresses. During the film’s post-production in 2017 after a five-month shoot, Villeneuve and Johansson parted ways due to the latter’s score as Villeneuve felt it wasn’t right as he wanted something closer to what Vangelis did with the original. Benjamin Wallfisch and Hans Zimmer came in July of 2017 to create a score with elements of Vangelis’ original score.
The film made its premiere in October of 2017 where it drew rave reviews upon its release with many critics praising the film’s visuals, mystery, and action. While it was well-received by critics and fans of the original film, the film didn’t do well commercially despite making nearly $260 million worldwide at the box office yet some felt it needed to make $400 million to break even. Despite its mediocre commercial reception as well as complaints from audiences for being too long, the film was still considered one of 2017’s best films as it would receive five Oscar nominations for its art direction, sound mixing, and sound editing while winning two Oscar for its visual effects and for Roger Deakins’ cinematography as many felt the win for Deakins was overdue.
One of two projects Villeneuve is attached to as the other project is a possible film adaptation of Jo Nesbo’s crime novel The Son is an adaptation of Frank Herbert’s epic sci-fi novel. While there had been a previous film version of the novel released in 1984 by David Lynch that wasn’t well-received critically nor commercially and later disowned by Lynch. There was also a legendary attempt in the mid-1970s by famed surrealist filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky that was later shown in a 2013 documentary film about Jodorowsky’s attempt to create Herbert’s novel into a film. While there hasn’t been clues on what Villeneuve is going to do and who will be involved as the only actor confirmed to be involved is Timothee Chalamet while Eric Roth is tasked to write the screenplay as the film is rumored for a 2019 release.
Having already made nine feature films and some acclaimed short films, there is no question that Denis Villeneuve is already one of the best filmmakers working right now whether it’s in ambitious Hollywood studio releases or in an art-house setting. Through the films he’s made so far, he’s already made a mark in cinema for giving audiences films that don’t play by the rules nor are willing to answer all kinds of questions. Even as he remains mysterious into the films he’s make which makes them more interesting as it allow viewers wanting more which is why he’s one of the best filmmakers the world has right now.
© thevoid99 2018