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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018 Competition

Review: High Life


- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2018: Claire Denis launches us on odyssey to save humanity in a film that surprises, fascinates and beguiles

Review: High Life
Robert Pattinson in High Life

To get maximum enjoyment out of Claire Denis’s latest film, it’s important not to know too much in advance. High Life [+see also:
interview: Claire Denis
film profile
, screening in competition at the 66th San Sebastián International Film Festival, opens with a brief prologue where we see astronaut (Robert Pattinson) repairing his ship, alone in the emptiness of deep space. Meanwhile, inside the vessel, a baby cries inconsolably in a makeshift crib. The two seem to be the only occupants of this place, but, as we soon discover, they were not always so alone in this inhospitable environment. When the film gets properly under way, we travel back in time to learn that at one time the spacecraft was home to a sizeable community of men and women, led by one Dr Dibs (Juliette Binoche): a kind of femme fatale, mad scientist and fugitive in search of redemption (yes, all at once), obsessed with creating the perfect human embryo.

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The film gets right to the heart of the dynamics of the group, whose time on Earth was anything but glorious and yet who, paradoxically, may hold the fate of humanity in their hands. The spacecraft that Denis has imagined is more reminiscent of an abandoned factory or a great cargo ship than the sterile, stylised sets of Hollywood fare. Furthermore, the director opts for dark, murky photography and a soundtrack that’s something like a polyphonic buzzing, conjuring a thick, oppressive atmosphere that gathers heavily in our lungs.

In foraying into the realms of classic science fiction, Denis is not afraid to take risks and venture onto unexpected paths. At the same time, all her trademarks remain intact, and High Life essentially conducts itself as an extremely violent fantasy thriller, an erotic existential drama and a horror film bathed in lyricism; all these things at once, and yet everything in its proper place. The French director’s remarkable talents are already well established, but with her latest film she touches new heights of virtuosity to which few can aspire.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about High Life is the way that, amid its screwy mash up of genres, it manages to show us our own reflection. Denis’s vision of the not-so-distant future is bleak, radical and disturbing — but aren’t the headlines we read over breakfast each day just as frightening? Don’t we feel dismay at the behaviour of the leaders who determine our own fate? Art has the power to create imagined realities that help us see our world from a different perspective. In this respect, High Life is an unequivocal triumph.

In short, it takes us on mind-bending adventure through outer space, accompanied by one of the most unique and individual filmmakers in contemporary cinema. Awash with breathtakingly powerful images, High Life holds nothing back, laying itself wide open to the audience and inviting us to enjoy an experience that’s as suffocating as it is liberating.

High Life is a co-production between Alcatraz Films (France), Pandora Filmproduktion (Germany), The Apocalypse Films (Germany), Madants (Poland) and Andrew Lauren Productions (USA). Wild Bunch are overseeing international sales.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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