Claire Denis’s High Life Rolls Out This Fall

With today’s announcement from the San Sebastián Festival that Claire Denis’s High Life will be screening as part of its official selection, we can be fairly sure that the French director’s English-language debut and her first science fiction film is preparing for a run through the fall festival circuit. San Sebastián, whose sixty-sixth edition runs from September 21 through 29, isn’t claiming that its presentation will be a premiere of any sort. This has inspired some speculation of where the world premiere will be. Due to the timing, it’s easy to assume that Venice (August 29 through September 8) might be the place. But in a piece for Cineuropa on the likely French contenders for the Venice lineup, Fabien Lemercier suggests that the film’s team “is actually angling for a North American world premiere.” Meaning Toronto, right? Not necessarily. The Telluride Film Festival (September 1 through 4) will open and then close two days before Toronto begins on September 6.

Wherever High Life premieres, the good news is that one of this year’s most anticipated films is finally ready to roll. Many had hoped to see it in Cannes, and some even accused Cannes of shunning Denis when High Life didn’t appear in the lineup. But as Denis kept insisting, the film simply wouldn’t have been presentable in May.

High Life centers on a father and daughter, the last remaining crew members on a ship whose mission is to tear through deep space toward a black hole. It’s an idea that Denis has been nursing for over fifteen years. When it came time to write the screenplay, she teamed up with Zadie Smith and Nick Laird, but they eventually parted ways. “We don’t have the same philosophy of life,” Denis told Jonathan Romney in the Observer in April. But she did stick with artist Olafur Eliasson, who’s designed the spacecraft, and with astrophysicist Aurélien Barrau for his expertise as an advisor.

As for the cast, Denis originally thought of Vincent Gallo for the lead—she’d worked with him on Trouble Every Day in 2001—before deciding that Philip Seymour Hoffman would be a better fit. When Hoffman died in 2014, Denis had no one in mind to replace him until Robert Pattinson approached her. “It’s strange,” she told Vogue Hommes in 2016, “because it would be difficult to imagine anyone more unlike Philip Seymour Hoffman physically, but Robert is very enigmatic, with a powerful presence. He gives off an aura that immediately makes you want to film him.” Then Patricia Arquette left the cast in 2017, but Juliette Binoche stepped up to take her role.

The shoot wasn’t an easy one. While working with Pattinson, Binoche, Mia Goth, and André Benjamin in Cologne last year, Denis’s heart and very often her mind were in Paris, where her mother was dying. “Maybe I gave to the film, maybe, a sort of sadness,” she told Nick Newman at the Film Stage in April, “but I put all my trust in Robert—as if I was telling him, ‘I’m here for you. Otherwise, I would be in the train already, to the hospital.’ I’m almost crying.”

San Sebastián 2018

High Life is one of seven films in the first round San Sebastián has selected to compete for its top award, the Golden Shell. Among the other six is another film starring Juliette Binoche, Naomi Kawase’s Vision, the name in the world of the film of a rare medicinal herb supposedly capable of unlocking humanity’s potential.

Valeria Sarmiento, the widow of Chilean director Raúl Ruiz who completed his Lines of Wellington in 2012, won a Grand Prix for Best New Director in San Sebastián in 1984 for Notre mariage. She returns with The Black Book, inspired by Camilo Castelo Branco’s novel, a journey through the Europe of the late eighteenth century. Angelo, Markus Schleinzer’s second feature after Michael (2011), is set in the same time period and stars Alba Rohrwacher.

Kim Jee-woon’s Illang: The Wolf Brigade is a live-action adaptation of Hiroyuki Okiura’s 1999 classic animated film Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. Benjamín Naishtat’s third feature after his impressive History of Fear (2014) and The Movement (2015) is Rojo, which is set in Argentina in the 1970s on the eve of the military dictatorship. And Simon Jaquemet’s The Innocent centers on a conservative Christian woman who works in a neuroscience research lab.

San Sebastián has been rolling out the lineups for its other sections, too, including its New Directors program, the Perlak and Zabaltegi-Tabakalera sections, and a tribute to Hirokazu Kore-eda, winner of this year’s Palme d’Or in Cannes for Shoplifters.

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