The trailer for Claire Denis' High Life

For space-cinema fans, Spring 2019 has long had two big releases on the schedule unrelated to that big Apollo anniversary. The Brad Pitt-led, James Gray (Lost City of Z)-directed Ad Astra continues to target May, and the Robert Pattinson-starring, Claire Denis-made High Life arrives this week.

Before even so much as seeing a trailer for the former, I now know that the only thing these two films likely have in common will be an out-of-this-world setting.

At the most basic-level, High Life centers on the story of Monte (Pattinson), the last man on the nondescript spaceship No.7. Quickly, the film reveals he hasn't always been this alone—originally Monte was one of nine inmates released from their sentences in exchange for accepting an interstellar mission. "We were scum, trash, refuse that didn't fit into the system until someone had the bright idea of recycling us to serve science," as Monte's narration frames it. Why and how these people ended up as hauntingly beautiful floating space debris makes up the bulk of High Life's minimalist plot, as does the question of what made Monte avoid and continue to put off such a fate. Violence, mental challenges, and some off-the-books drugs and research complicate everything.

But as those who recognize famed French auteur Claire Denis might expect, plot never really rises above a secondary priority at best. Those sci-fi film fans seeking a tense drama or some intricate allegory filled with clear messages and answers will be better off booting up A New Hope for the 100th time while waiting for Brad Pitt. Instead, Denis' first foray into space sci-fi and English-language film will probably delight anyone that dabbles in Film Twitter™ with its ambiguity and artiness. But unlike the 2001-ish experience it may sound like in certain ways, High Life will just as easily lose certain segments of its audience with its abundance of extremes and seeming disinterest in story.

  • A whole lot less sparkle in this role for Robert Pattinson. (Claire Denis originally envisioned Philip Seymour Hoffman as her lead, and this film has been at various stages of work for years.) High Life / Claire Denis / Fons PR
  • Pattinson's Monte is one of the last humans in space, now responsible for what may be the last. High Life / Claire Denis / Fons PR
  • Andre 3000 (aka Andre Benjamin)'s Tcherny is a calming presence in the film. The character, coincidentally, loves the zen of the ship's garden. High Life / Claire Denis / Fons PR
  • Recognizable for fans of the Suspiria remake, poor actor Mia Goth (left, as Boyse) really meets some unfortunate treatments High Life / Claire Denis / Fons PR
  • Juliette Binoche (as Dr. Dibs) is a longtime Claire Denis muse. She plays the ostensible villain in High Life High Life / Claire Denis / Fons PR
  • Director Claire Denis, renowned French filmmaker, arthouse legend, Film Twitter royalty, etc. With quotes like this in her press notes, she clearly has something in mind with High Life: "The American English spoken in the film serves another purpose. I wanted the spectator to recall a country where the death penalty still exists—like in certain states in the US." High Life / Claire Denis / Fons PR

In space, no one can hear you ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Wherever she can, Denis intentionally zags with High Life where prior space films zigged. Though she obviously thought a lot about the genre and its scientific basis—Denis namechecks 2001 and Solaris in the film's press materials, and she worked with the European Space Agency and astrophysicist Aurélien Barrau to familiarize herself with everything from black holes and the Big Bang to string theory and wormholes—the director intentionally eschews a lot of that detail.

For instance, while the world of High Life is undeniably constructed with care and has a certain blue-collar chic that's more Prospect than SpaceX, Denis sought to avoid the sleekness so often associated with sci-fi or NASA glory. This is not "Kens and Barbies floating in spaceships resembling children's toys," Denis says in her press notes. Spaceship No.7 looks like a functional shoe-box when it floats through space, and its interior might as well be a prison.

High Life's action follows this same aesthetic, with little-to-no effects. This film's space cadets simply walk. Anything discarded from the ship just falls off a ledge into the nothingness of space. Views of the outside galaxy definitely can be striking, but they're minimalistic, and at times, it's (intentionally) hard to decipher whether we're looking at space or inside the human body. Beyond one very First Man-y (lo-fi, practical, stunning in its own right) exploratory pod sequence, the closest thing to a "set piece" is a seductively shot, extended romp inside the ship's solo sex dungeon (which, yes, had become something to shout out on Twitter even Read More – Source

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Ars Technica

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