A new Claire Denis film is always something to shout about, but the fact that High Life is the celebrated French director’s first foray into science-fiction and her debut in the English-language undoubtedly supply an added piquancy.
High Life stars Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche among a motley ensemble of death-row prisoners sent on a one-way voyage to a distant galaxy to harvest energy from black holes. As escalating tensions and isolation take their toll, the crew members are forced to confront the most primal questions of existence. As ever with Denis, the images are hypnotically riveting, the mood unsettling and strange, the structure elliptical and time-bending. Well into her seventies, this most adventurous of directors is still resisting categorisation and taking risks. She spoke to Pamela Hutchinson about scripts, sets, stars and sci-fi.
Let your mind wander across the whole of cinema history and it’s hard to come up with a greater cluster of talents than those whose careers were kickstarted during the Weimar era in Germany – Lang, Lubitsch, Murnau, Ophuls, Siodmak, Wilder, to name but a few. To mark a major season on Weimar cinema at BFI Southbank, Sight & Sound undertakes a deep-dive survey of this pregnant cultural moment, one of “feverish experimentation and constant debate in which a multiplicity of voices can be heard”, according to writer and curator Margaret Deriaz. That multiplicity includes not only some of the lesser-known directors in addition to the canonical films and figures, but also the often overlooked Jewish dimension in this brilliant constellation of talent.
Furthermore, as editor Nick James notes, Weimar also saw the emergence of a new breed of critical writing about the art of cinema, from figures such as Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Siegfried Kracauer, Lotte Eisner and Bela Balazs.
The short hop from Germany to Hungary yields Sunset, the spellbinding new film from László Nemes, whose previous feature Son of Saul was a controversial addition to the ever-growing cinema of the Holocaust. The new film takes place in Budapest in the last days of the Austro-Hungarian empire, where a young woman looks for her brother, rumoured to be leader of an underground insurgency. Nemes adopts a similar virtuoso technique to his earlier film, this time an intricately byzantine narrative which may or may not take place all in one character’s head. Jonathan Romney seeks clarification from director Nemes and lead actor Juli Jakab.
Heavenly Bodies A crew of death-row prisoners on a one-way mission to a distant galaxy are forced to contemplate the meaning of life, death and the universe in Claire Denis’s first English-language film, High Life. Here the director discusses scripts, sets, stars and sci-fi. By Pamela Hutchinson
White Light, White Heat: Weimar Cinema’s Hidden Depths A century on, in our new age of strife and uncertainty, the Weimar Republic’s polarised politics, social inequality and culture of resentment and blame feel peculiarly relevant once again – giving fresh life to the experimental spirit, ironic wit and multiple perspectives of the era’s cinema. By Margaret Deriaz.
The Mysteries of Budapest In Sunset, László Neme’s spellbinding follow-up to Son of Saul, the director channels the spirit of Franz Kafka in a tale of a young woman searching for her missing brother in Budapest during the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. By Jonathan Romney.
Editorial The weight of cinema, from Weimar to Brexit
On our radar A photographer’s hunt for the lost cinemas of Cuba, plus what to visit, buy, read and stream.
Bohemian Rhapsody Madeline’s Madeline director Josephine Decker explains the sensitivities and intricacies of trying to inhabit someone’s else’s mind. By Jemma Desai.
Dream palaces: the Nuart, Los Angeles An art deco treasure from the golden age offers a rich diet of little-seen reruns and indie gems for The Crying Game and Greta director Neil Jordan.
The numbers: The White Crow and culture biopics A trio of successful films celebrating the lives of famous artistic figures show the market for high culture at the UK box office. By Charles Gant.
Films in production New projects for Sofia Coppola, Yorgos Lanthimos, Alice Rohrwacher and Joel Coen.
Tribute: Agnes Varda Collaborators and fellow filmmakers remember the inimitable wit, charm and talents of the late, great artist and director.
Straightforward be damned As lesbians become ever more visible on screen, are we relinquishing the chance to read between the lines? By Clara Bradbury-Rance.
Primal screen: Victorian value A BFI project aims to put the very earliest moving pictures in reach of the public – and to show how sophisticated they were. By Bryony Dixon.
CPH:DOX This year’s edition of Denmark’s documentary festival envisioned a world beyond humanism and its contemporary crises. By Nick Bradshaw.
Films of the month: Birds of Passage Diamantino John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection
Plus reviews of
An Accidental Studio Amazing Grace Arctic Beats The Crossing Destination Wedding Dirty God Dumbo Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile Freedom Fields Gloria Bell Hellboy High Life Holy Lands Hotel Mumbai Last Summer Little Long Shot Madeline’s Madeline Memoir of War Pet Sematary Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich Rafiki Rory’s Way Shazam! Sunset Too Late to Die Young Triple Frontier A Vigilante Where Hands Touch The World Is Yours XY Chelsea
Home Cinema features:
Cheap thrills: Detour At long last, a new restoration of Edgar G. Ulmer’s classic low-budget noir reveals it in all its grimy, gloomy glory. Reviewed by Andrew Male.
Revival: Shakespeare Wallah and Heat and Dust/Autobiography of a Princess A trio of lovingly restored works by Ismail Merchant and James Ivory explore Western attitudes to India past and present. Reviewed by Philip Kemp.
plus reviews of
Bergman: A Year in a Life The Caretaker Films by Marcel Carne — Jenny & Les Portes de la Nuit Dragonwyck Lilith Melo Mr. Topaze My Brilliant Career The Reckless Moment The Snake Pit Symphonie pour un Massacre The Third Secret Voyages a Travers le Cinema Francais The Wild Pussycat/The Deserter
Television: Robert Hanks on Patrica Routledge in Victoria Regina; plus The Likely Lads.
Books: Olivia de Havilland: Lady Triumphant by Victoria Amador (University Press of Kentucky) reviewed by Isabel Stevens Birth of the Binge: Serial TV and the End of Leisure by Dennis Broe (Wayne State University Press) reviewed by Matthew Harle The Art of American Screen Acting: 1912 to 1960 & The Art of American Screen Acting: 1960 to Today by Dan Callahan (McFarland) reviewed by Farran Smith Nehme
Letters: Hollywood has lost its provactive edge, so Netflix picks up the slack Has Kubrick’s graphical genius been overblown? Making connections in The Sisters Brothers Dennis Hopper in Birmingham
Endings: Demonlover Olivier Assayas’s techno-thriller winds up with a bleak image of digital capitalism, a world in which humans are reduced to product. By Tim Hayes.