There are few directors with the same cultural and cinematic significance as Denis Villeneuve in the modern industry, with the French Canadian filmmaker soon to release the long-anticipated adaptation of Frank Herbert’s novel, Dune. His past filmography also speaks for itself, with three Academy Awards for his films Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, as well as critical acclaim for Sicario, Prisoners and Incendies.
A visionary filmmaker, Villeneuve is known for his spectacular feats of cinematography, expressed particularly well in Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 and Dune, in which he manages to conjure worlds and concepts in extraordinary detail. “I think I’m attracted to subjects that I’m afraid of,” Villeneuve once remarked while talking about his work. Indeed, the worlds that he constructs are uncanny and disturbing but revelatory at the same time. Deeply psychological in nature, Villeneuve’s films force us to confront our own anxieties as only art can do.
A purveyor of the spectacular, the films of Denis Villeneuve have influenced filmmakers worldwide, with his own work inspired by the films of Steven Spielberg, François Truffaut, Stanley Kubrick, Ingmar Bergman. Although Villeneuve began making films, drawing heavy inspiration from the French New Wave, he quickly realised that science fiction was the genre where there was a limitless potential for exploration and story-telling. Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey continues to be his favourite film as well as a consistent source of inspiration for him; after watching the film, he had received his first “cinematic shock”.
Almost ten years after the release of Stanley Kubrick’s iconic science fiction film, however, came “the most impressive cinematic experience” of Denis Villeneuve’s life in George Lucas’ revolutionary blockbuster, Star Wars. In a recent discussion with Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao and Harpers Bazaar, Villeneuve explained his love for the series, commenting: “The Empire Strikes Back was probably one of the most impressive cinematic experiences of my life”.
Continuing, the Dune director noted, “I saw the first Star Wars at ten years old. I was the target audience. To wait for The Empire Strikes Back was the biggest wait of my life. I rode something like 20 miles on a bike to go see the movie in a theatre”.
Discussing the sheer spectacle of the event, Villeneuve noted, “The owner let us watch it two or three times in a row. I remember the shock of that movie. I never talk about Star Wars. I want to look like an intellectual director, but I’m not. The truth is, I am a deep fan”.
So despite Denis Villeneuve coming across as the intellectually enigmatic filmmaker of contemporary cinema, his passion still lies in the frivolous spectacle of George Lucas’ iconic series. Eliciting such raw emotion from Villeneuve, it is clear that the galaxy far, far away has inspired the likes of Blade Runner 2049 and Dune.