High Life

They don’t know what you’re doing
Babe it must be art!

I would have thought that if Claire Denis’ pseudo-scientific/psychological/philosophical babble and fetish for semen didn’t turn off serious sci-fi fans, then the distractingly deficient level of craft reflected in the set design (e.g., apparently there is but a single hallway in the entire spacecraft) and the costumes (e.g., one can literally see the gap between the helmet and the spacesuit) certainly would.  (And to quote my favorite review of this film: “visual effects by your neighbor’s nephew Greg.”)  It would have been more artful/less insulting to just line a blank sound stage (a la Dogville (2003)) than to pass off what appears to be half of a floor of an old office building, an industrial garage, and an overgrown greenhouse—embellished by two days of carpentry work and $500 of used medical and office equipment—as the inside of a spacecraft capable of sub-light speed.  And then there’s the exposition (e.g., the scene on the train).  Bottom line: There’s no point to—or excuse for—the lack of devotion to basic world-building, other than a snotty contempt for the genre and its audience.

As for the substantive content, I think Richard Whittaker summed up this film best as “a meandering mess of symbolism, half-thoughts, ponderous exchanges, and emotional dead-ends, one that confuses ambiguity for an unengaging air of vagueness.” On my own account, I felt genuinely embarrassed for Juliette Binoche, who not only has to deliver some real zingers, but is the sole participant in one of the most unsexy sex scenes (and not in a compelling way) I’ve viewed on the big screen in quite some time.

On the heels of Let the Sunshine In (2018) and in consideration of the 3.5 rating this film currently enjoys on Letterboxd, to my mind and my tastes, I would have to place Denis among the most overrated feature filmmakers working today.

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