My first acquaintance with Canadian film director Denis Villeneuve was in May 2014 on a British Airways flight from London to New York. We shared an inflight vegetarian Indian meal and a glass of red wine together. That moment changed my life. It was the moment I saw his intense thriller Prisoners on the plane entertainment system, starring none other than Hollywood super weights Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman. A few months later I watched his following film Enemy, an ingenious art house film starring Jake Gyllenhaal. (I mentioned it at the time in my film review of Richard Ayoade’s The Double.) Fastforward to October 2015 when our (admittedly rather one-sided) romance continued and I saw his film on the Mexican-American war on drugs, Sicario, in a cinema in Belfast. The film was so intense, I sat with sweaty palms in my comfy red plush seat for two hours.
After having watched three of his films, I had become a Villeneuve addict and needed to see more of his work. A friend recommended his earlier film called Incendies. It’s intriguing, dark and it’s very twisted plot leaves the viewer behind in shock. It is one of the best films I’ve seen in the last years. So far, each of the Denis Villeneuve films I’ve seen has been completely different from the other ones, but they all have this broody dark vibe in common.
What I admire in Villeneuve’s career is that, although he has made different types of films (arthouse, thriller, drama, action), he has maintained his own (unsettling) voice and quality, despite having entered ‘the world of Hollywood’. He’s currently working on the follow-up to the sci-fi cult classic Blade Runner (1982) and I honestly cannot wait to see the result. Unlike the new episode in the Alien instalment, which is going to be released in 2017 as well. I am a huge Alien fan, the first film in the series is absolutely one of my favourite films ever, but I’m rather dreading to see what film director Neil Blomkamp is going to do to it. The first film by this South African film director, District 9, was absolutely amazing but his following films Elysium (featuring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster) and Chappie didn’t manage to get even near it. Let’s just hope he’s found his mojo back.
The 5 Reasons Why You Should Know Film Director Denis Villeneuve
1. Incendies (2010)
Cast: Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin, Maxim Gaudette, Lubna Agabal
The story starts with twins Jeanne and Simon receiving two letters and instructions from their deceased mother at the notary. The letters are to be delivered their father (who was supposedly killed years ago) and their brother (whose existence they didn’t know about). For Simon this is confirmation that their mother was crazy and he refuses to take part in Jeanne’s resolution to fulfil their mother’s last wishes She travels to the Middle East and slowly unravels their mother’s incredible life journey while the story switches between present day and the past.
This is far from a feel good film, but it does a great job at drawing the viewers into the film. A fantastic film with an unsettling plot that will linger in your head for a while.
2. Prisoners (2013)
Cast: Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Maria Bello
Perhaps it’s because I saw it on a plane, but watching this film felt rather suppressed and claustrophobic at times. The awful premise of the story is the disappearance of 6-year old Joy and her friend. The police investigation is led by detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) and their only lead is an old camper van that was parked in the street at the time of the disappearance. Question is: did the creepy driver (great role by Paul Dano) have anything to do with this or not? Joy’s father Keller Dover (played by Hugh Jackman) takes things into own hands when the police doesn’t make any progress on the case.
3. Enemy (2013)
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal (in a double-role), Mélanie Laurent, Isabella Rossellini
In my humble opinion this little gem deserves much more exposure than it had so far! This dark film features the always brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal in an unsettling doppelgänger role. If you want to set your brains to work while watching a film, this is a definite must-see! I recommend you to watch it at least twice and read this article before your second viewing.
4. Sicario (2015)
Cast: Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin, Benicia Del Toro
In Sicario (meaning ‘hitman’) Villeneuve investigates the war against drugs in the border area between Mexico and the USA. The film shows how no-one is ‘innocent’ and that everybody plays dirty, even (or especially?) the government. A tense film with excellent performances by Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin and Benicio del Toro.
5. Blade Runner untitled sequel (2017)
Cast: Ryan Gosling, Robin Wright, Harrison Ford
I bet everybody has high expectations for this follow-up to Ridley Scott’s cult classic from 1982. Scott was initially supposed to direct the new Blade Runner film as well, but pulled out and is now only credited as the screenplay writer. In the original Harrison Ford played ex-cop Rick Deckard who’s a so-called ‘blade runner’, a person with the task of eliminating ‘replicants’ androids with human physical features. Dutch actor Rutger Hauer has a big role in this film as one of the replicants. According to IMdB there’s another Dutchie playing in the new film: Sylvia Hoeks. Apparently she’s from a town not too far from where I used to live. How’s that for a fact, eh? I bet she’s telling all her friends as well that she used to live near Dutch Girl in London 😉
And there’s more!
Besides some shorts and a documentary, Villeneuve has also made the highly-acclaimed Maelström (2000), Un 32 août sur terre (1998) and Polytechnique (2009), which are all still on my to-watch list.
In November 2016 his Sci-Fi Arrival with Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Forest Whitaker hits the cinema. Watch the trailer here:
*Feature image for this blog post of a blank grained film strip comes from Shutterstock.