High Life (2018)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB

////USA, 2018, , , +, , , , , Screenplay by , , , consultant Cinematography by , Produced by , , , , , , , Music by , Production Design by , , , Costume Design by Film Editing by

Claire Denis takes her fascination with human connection into the outer stratosphere, working with a full English dialogue soundtrack for the first time in her formidable film career. We find Robert Pattinson living aboard a vessel that is floating through space, his only companion a baby who we are assuming is his own issue. He looks after the ship’s Silent Running greenhouse and keeps up with the computer’s maintenance programs, but it’s not until flashbacks begin that we find out what he’s doing on this ship in the first place, and why its rooms are in disarray and a great deal of its equipment looks damaged. It turns out that Pattinson was one of a group of prisoners sent into space as part of an experiment involving fertility, overseen by a curiously sensual doctor (Juliette Binoche) who eventually loses a grip on the emotional equilibrium of the crew. The visually evocative director usually treats her audience to a general sense of her plots without too many details, the ellipses typically creating an atmosphere that becomes the film’s third sensual dimension as the brain fills in the missing bits and pieces; here there’s more emphasis than usual on explicit narrative, possibly the result of having more producers than usual on a higher budget than in the past, but the bits that mean to provide exegesis are dull compared to the obscure stuff and soften the power of such memorable scenes as an abandoned ship full of lonely dogs.  More surprising is that, while Denis often moves through her explorations of attraction with a constant sense of languid movement, here her pacing stalls quite a bit and her take on the story is much colder than in the past. For the newcomer to her oeuvre, this one won’t work at all, its violence is too unpleasant and its lack of a redeeming plot in a genre that is mainly known for adventure and excitement (and I even have Stanley Kubrick in mind when I say this) is distancing, while her devoted fans will appreciate her commitment to obscurity while being forced to admit that there are a number of parts that just don’t fit: an orgasmatron booth that leaks jizz and an astronaut sex witch constantly cooling her lengthy hair are the kinds of eccentricities we love from Denis, but they’re among the unusual elements that never successfully become part of the whole. Pattinson is excellent in the lead role, deeply sympathetic despite rarely saying much, and the framing device of having him hurtle through space, theoretically towards an inevitable death, is intermittently powerful, but does not survive past the end credits.

Toronto International Film Festival:  2018

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