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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018 Competition

Claire Denis • Director

“This is a film about love, loneliness and tenderness”

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- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018: One of the most highly respected and celebrated European filmmakers, Claire Denis, discusses the details of High Life, her entry in this year’s official competition

Claire Denis  • Director
(© San Sebastián International Film Festival)

Claire Denis was at the San Sebastián International Film Festival presenting her highly anticipated new film, High Life [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Claire Denis
film profile
]
. The French filmmaker competed for the Golden Shell at the gathering, where she received the FIPRESCI Award, after having garnered rave reviews for the movie. Cineuropa had the chance to participate in a round-table, where the seasoned director shared the details of her creative process, as well as her opinion about the reactions to the film.

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Cineuropa: What was your writing process like for this film?
Claire Denis:
It is always the same. Jean-Pol [her long-time collaborator Jean-Pol Fargeau] and I need to have an idea about the film that I want to make, and then, when we start working, we need to figure out what the beginning is and how we are going to enter the story. This time, we felt that a beautiful way to start the story would be with a baby alone in a spaceship, talking to her dad outside, on the roof. Then, as soon as this solid little foundation is there, you know the rest is going to work. If Jean-Pol and I don’t find a way to enter the story, we have to go back and start again. But as soon as we’ve got that, we know we are okay.

This is your first film in English and also your first purely science-fiction effort. Was it especially challenging?
To be honest, no. The English producer, Oliver Dungey, asked me if I wanted to do a film in English. I said yes, but since it’s not my mother tongue, there had to be a good reason for the characters to be speaking English. Then I proposed this story because I realised that people in space today speak either Russian or English, and maybe Chinese in the not-too-distant future. For me, it seemed normal.

How did you decide to recreate the set of the spaceship the way you did?
The shape of the ship was clear in my mind from the beginning. I knew that in the void, shape is not important, as there is no resistance, so any shape is possible for travelling at that speed. I was ready for that shape, as simple as it was. It was more difficult to make sure that the art director would understand that the simpler the better. And I didn’t want it to be white; I wanted it to be beige, brown and red. For me, white represents the conquest of space, and in this case, it’s different: they are prisoners, and they are not there to conquer.

There were some reports from Toronto about people fainting during the screening. Is that true? How do you feel about it?
I didn’t read anything like that from the journalists; it was people on Twitter. We got the greatest reviews we’ve ever had, so it was not so sad after all. Something like this happened to me with Trouble Every Day, but this is very different. This is a film about love, loneliness and tenderness.

Robert Pattinson’s character is a criminal who killed one of his friends when he was a kid because of a toy. Where did this story come from?
It came from a true story. I was speaking to Robert, and I was thinking along the lines of a crime committed during childhood. And then I remembered this story of this little boy killing a friend of his for a toy or something, in England, and he went to jail. Then, when he was about 20 years old, the British Government changed his name, he got a new face, and he went to Texas to start over. After five or six years in Texas, he killed someone else. I think what happened to him is that after being in prison as a child, losing contact with his family, and changing his name and everything, all of these safety measures robbed him of his humanity. And Robert took this story and used it.

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