starring Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, André Benjamin, Mia Goth
screenplay by Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau, Geoff Cox
directed by Claire Denis
by Angelo Muredda If you took Twitter's word for it after the gala premiere of Claire Denis's High Life, which was apparently conceived in an off-the-cuff conversation with Vincent Gallo about life at the end of the world and briefly tinkered-with in the earliest days of its inception by Zadie Smith, you'd think the singular French filmmaker abandoned all her instincts to make an edgy sci-fi sex farce with the dildo chair from Burn After Reading. What a relief, then, to discover that High Life is indeed a Claire Denis film. A step removed from the spoiler-saturated breathlessness of the first hot takes, one finds something every bit as rattled and mournful a late work as Paul Schrader's First Reformed, and, like Trouble Every Day, no less structurally elusive or visceral than the rest of her oeuvre for being a work of genre.
Though that premise, and the brief appearance of the infamous "fuckbox" that spawned a thousand tweets, suggests some sort of esoteric exploitation film (Sexcula in space), Denis deals with this primal material in an anguished and entirely earnest way. She treats Dibs's casual domain over the prisoners' bodies and bodily fluids as a fundamental violation of their humanity. Indeed, Denis seems fascinated here by the paradoxes of bare life at the ultimate edge of space--distressed by humans' seemingly bottomless capacity to be brutal to one another but moved by the caring gestures of a father looking out for his child even when there's no world left in which to raise her.
For all the film's righteous anger and despair at how power politics and sexual violence are sure to follow wherever humans go, one is also left with an ineffable sense of possibility centred on this brave new nativity scene. There's real tenderness to those moments of paternal care in the cold expanse of space. And, despite both the shocking violence of Dibs's experiments and the naughtiness of her great invention, a room where the space dwellers can go to expend their pent-up energy (at some cost), there's hope in the pregnant anxiety of the last act, where Monte and child, a little bit older and a little bit sadder, face the reality of their situation by staring into a black hole that, sure as life will one day kill them, may well obliterate them, but might also be the start of something better. It's powerful stuff, no less indelible for being vaguely familiar. Programme: Gala Presentations