Denis Villeneuve: "Science fiction is a reflection of the contemporary world"

In the new Hollywood, between superhero blockbusters and Christopher Nolan’s narrative delusions, Denis Villeneuve he has made his way as a filmmaker with one foot in auteur cinema and the other in blockbusters. The Canadian director became known internationally with ‘Fires‘and the American industry took an eye on him. The thrillers’Prisoners‘ and ‘Hitman‘they consolidated him as one of the great contemporary authors before entering science fiction with’The arrival‘and the sequel to’Blade Runner’.

Now, he confesses, he takes on the great project of his career. Bring to screen ‘Dune‘, the literary classic of Frank Herbert which, for decades, has been a damn challenge for the cinema. Jodorowski was never able to pull off his version and the baroque and eccentric adaptation of David Lynch in the 80s it appears as one of the great failures of his career -then claimed as a cult film-. Villeneuve has assembled a spectacular cast, from Timothée Chalamet a zendaya, Javier Bardem, Oscar Isaac and Jason Momoa, to fulfill one of his dreams as a child. “What caught my attention when I read ‘Dune’ was this journey in search of an identity that passes through another culture, but also the relationship with nature, melancholy and the feeling of isolation,” he explained during the presentation in Venice of one of the most anticipated films of the season.

Villeneuve’s ‘Dune’ simplifies and amplifies the entire imagery of one of the sacred works of science fiction, a dense and convoluted story, with what we could define as an ‘author’s blockbuster’, away from rhythms, times, the narratives and fireworks of commercial cinema in recent years. “When I decided to do this project, I said to myself, you usually make films with restricted ratings, adult films, very violent, dark, psychological. This time I wanted to make a movie for teenagers, or for everyone, it is a movie that can be seen by the younger audience. I did it that way because when I discovered the novel, I was 13 myself, and I said that children all over the world will love it. The adaptation of the whole movie is made to my own liking as an adult now. I wanted to do this dark ‘space opera’, which had not been seen before. I have tried to make a pop movie with great joyThat’s why that is fun for me … Now you say that I did a blockbuster against the blockbuster rules, frankly I will take it as a compliment “, he replies, laughing, in conversation with Cinema in the SER.

The director, who also co-signs the script, offers a spiritual and physical experience that takes time to explain in detail that labyrinthine universe before exploding the action. For the uninitiated, the story is set on the desert planet of Arrakis, an area systematically exploited by other houses of the empire. Spice is a prized substance, not only for its psychoactive effects, but also for being a source of energy for interstellar travel. When the Harkonnen, one of the most powerful families, receive the imperial order to withdraw from the place, the Atreides – their great enemies – assume the task of ruling and producing in the area. And on that mission, with drums of war, the protagonists embark, with Oscar Isaac and Rebecca Ferguson as parents of a very special young man, the Paul Atreides played by Timothée Chalamet. The entire weight of the film falls on the young actor, an atypical hero-chosen-messiah project, physically and emotionally. The new Hollywood star, known for, among others, his role in ‘Call me by your name’, challenges with this character the classic pattern with which the viewer quickly empathizes. The hero’s adventure includes learning fighting techniques, learning about the local tribe – the Arabized Fremen of Zendaya and Javier Bardem – and managing atmospheric conditions, with the added threat of giant worms patrolling the desert.

Villeneuve stops in the bowels of power, in the dark side, in the rituals and ceremonies that lead the protagonist to see the future in dreams and dominate other people with his voice, and in turn enhances political readings. The influence of religion on the geopolitical chessboard, war and resource exploitation – In the 70s and 80s, its reading was identified with the oil crises, today the parallelism can be made with the crisis in Afghanistan – and the environment are issues that are still valid. “Of course, that’s one of the things that makes adapting the novel interesting. It is more relevant than ever to this world. I think the novel is more relevant today than when it was written, it’s one of the things that interested me. My focus was on Paul Atreides’ psychological journey, on his journey, the drama, the family, the relationship with his mother, which was very difficult to adapt because all these previous elements are very much alive in the novel and I wanted to keep them. as much as possible. In the end, a science fiction film is a reflection of the contemporary world. For me it was essential that these issues were in the adaptation “, he points out.

The director also lands and humanizes the fantasy world of the novel and distances himself with the kitsch vision of David Lynch Its purpose? Build a recognizable universe from science fiction. “I used two things as inspiration, the book and not nature. I insisted on shooting in natural settings, which is why I also worked with cinematographer Greig Fraser, I wanted to create a world that was similar. I wanted nature to be our guide to the designer of the film, to truly bring the film into the world, to the writing process, the design, the shooting… It was really the contrast between Mother Nature and the book. I wanted the movie to feel as familiar as possible to the entire audience, I didn’t want to create something exotic, but familiarity ”.

Its visual proposal is sober but dazzling. Villeneuve takes care of the book’s rich iconography – the costume design is impressive – and updates his imaginary to the smallest detail. “Denis, Denis and Denis, that was my only inspiration. Denis’s mind, his ideas, the script … And on top of that, inspiration can come to you with the beauty of costume design. When you dress in these exclusive clothes, it changes you. The shoes, the outfit, the calm of a black dress already contains the aura. All things ”, he explains Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Jessica Atreides, mother of the chosen and influential medium.

Defender of big screen cinema –in Spain the film has an exclusive theatrical release, but in the US its launch is simultaneous in streaming-, Villeneuve, artisan of the image, defends that the medium is the message. “The film has been dreamed, designed, made, shot, with the big screen in mind, in IMAX. When you see it there it is a physical experience. We tried to make a movie that was as immersive as possible and for me, the big screen is part of the language”.

His idea is to develop this entire universe in a biology. In fact, this first part doesn’t go as far as Lynch’s. His next battle is to convince everyone that it is worth returning to Arrakis. “We agreed to start only with the first part and we will do the second if the film creates enthusiasm among the audience. That was the bet, it is a dangerous and exciting risk at the same time. There is something very honest in this game, but I took every precaution to put all my passion, my joy, most of my dreams, in this first part. Just in case, I have no regrets. It would certainly be very exciting to do Part 2 because, now with the base, with the world explained to the audience, I can only have fun with it ”, he concludes hopefully.

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