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High Life (2018 - Claire Denis)

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matthewscott8
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High Life (2018 - Claire Denis)

#1

Post by matthewscott8 » May 13th, 2019, 3:10 pm

I noted that there has been outstandingly negative feedback to Claire Denis' Science Fiction move High Life. I noted it only after having seen it in the middle of its UK theatrical run last night and having been completely blown away by it. My only real complaint is that there wasn't 2 hours more material. It felt like it would have been a great 4 hour movie. I wondered then if this film, which has blown a few away, and upset most others, might not qualify as a good talking point?

I also note that film may have perhaps taken some of music's role, in terms of expressing feelings that people otherwise do not feel comfortable talking about? This film would definitely seem to be an example of that.

I watched a movie called l'Enfer/Hell (2005) by Denis Tanovic many years ago, part of a trilogy of films (Heaven, Hell and Purgatory - Tom Twyker made Heaven) planned by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Hell, in this case is not Bosch-ian, it simply indicates how things can not work in life, by happenstance, because of the lack of receptivity of your social milieu, or due to one's personal attitude. It's a film of karmic darkness. It is the darkness, for example, of discovering too late that you are only attracted to people who don't notice you exist.

Denis' movie is a genre "Hell", it is the Hell of the human condition without love, set in another void, the allegorical void of space. It is not a thriller, I could not watch it and be in any doubt of darkness, no-one here is treading a line, it's a film where people live with irredeemable decisions. Where the emptiness and horror of existence without love is laid bare.

For myself I thought this was a major new entry to the sci-fi canon (or the horror canon if you will), a fantastic, darkly beautiful movie, with a superb performance, in particular, from Juliette Binoche.

Has anyone else watched this and care to discuss?

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#2

Post by Onderhond » May 13th, 2019, 4:15 pm

I had some hopes for this one, but was disappointed because of its rather standard arthouse handling of the subject.

I generally dislike arthouse films hijacking genre elements without fully committing to them. The space/scifi scenes were total crap, had a strong DIY and lazy feel to them and were never convincing. The tortured acting (Pattinson as worst offender) also put me off, so much in fact that I quickly stopped caring about any of the characters and extra layers that were hiding behind the main plot.

In the end, I thought this was a pretty cliché and expected arthouse affaire, one that could've used a director with a fresher voice and smarter take on the subject.

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#3

Post by viktor-vaudevillain » May 13th, 2019, 4:39 pm

I'm a big fan of Denis, and for me this ranks as one of her greatest entries yet. It's so soaked in her style and yet completely fresh.
It's also one of the best films ever for my money.

I still don't have many words for it, but I did write some stuff about it in reply to PdA a couple weeks back in the weekly round-up thread.

I completely disagree with Onderhond though. I love when directors don't care for genre conventions at all in a genre film. But, Onderhond, I simply don't know what you mean by "pretty cliché and expected arthouse affaire"? - What is an "art house film" after all? It's never been a genre per se... On another note, what do you demand of a sci fi genre flick? Why doesn't this live up to those demands?
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#4

Post by matthewscott8 » May 13th, 2019, 6:18 pm

Onderhond wrote:
May 13th, 2019, 4:15 pm
I had some hopes for this one, but was disappointed because of its rather standard arthouse handling of the subject.

I generally dislike arthouse films hijacking genre elements without fully committing to them. The space/scifi scenes were total crap, had a strong DIY and lazy feel to them and were never convincing. The tortured acting (Pattinson as worst offender) also put me off, so much in fact that I quickly stopped caring about any of the characters and extra layers that were hiding behind the main plot.

In the end, I thought this was a pretty cliché and expected arthouse affaire, one that could've used a director with a fresher voice and smarter take on the subject.
I think there were some black velvet and rhinestone scenes potentially, although given that the focus is not on the science fiction element this didn't bother me, was quite sensual. On the other hand I think the black hole simulation had a huge amount of money spent on it. Even if it was initially for Inception (at a guess).

The image I liked best was the stone being dropped into the black well. Showed the space was the metaphysical result of an initial act on earth.

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#5

Post by Onderhond » May 13th, 2019, 10:12 pm

viktor-vaudevillain wrote:
May 13th, 2019, 4:39 pm
I love when directors don't care for genre conventions at all in a genre film.
I don't love it or hate it, I was talking more about the execution of genre elements that areincluded. See, if you do choose to include a space ship, make it look like one. Not like some cheapish stage play décor. And when characters are floating in space, don't make it look like two images overlaid and leave it at that. Or the scene where Pattinson is sitting in that porch window, which is absolutely ridiculous. This is film, not a theatre production. If you can't do space well, you could this exact same film with a boat and an island and it wouldn't change a thing.

Even the outer hull of the space ship annoyed me. I get it's a conceptual idea, but even then make it more than an idea with some sloppily executed CG, just get the execution right too.

viktor-vaudevillain wrote:
May 13th, 2019, 4:39 pm
But, Onderhond, I simply don't know what you mean by "pretty cliché and expected arthouse affaire"? - What is an "art house film" after all? It's never been a genre per se...
It's not a genre, but it still has tell tale signs. Just like a "blockbuster" is not a genre, but has some common elements making it a blockbuster. An open-ended (or bad) ending, slow pacing, tortured acting, hidden layers, a loaded soundtrack. And it's not any of these elements separately, but the combination of it all which just makes it a little too predictable for me.

matthewscott8 wrote:
May 13th, 2019, 6:18 pm
On the other hand I think the black hole simulation had a huge amount of money spent on it. Even if it was initially for Inception (at a guess).
I sure hope not, it just didn't look interesting not me. Not conceptually or aesthetically. What I got from the film is that Denis has no affinity with scifi at all. Which is fine of course, only don't do scifi then.

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#6

Post by mightysparks » May 13th, 2019, 11:07 pm

I thought it was fairly average. I haven’t read any other feedback about it, but i agree it had the potential to be something great if it had been longer. It felt like it took the easy way out by starting in the present and then going back with flashbacks, but it never quite captured that ‘dream-like’ feeling and instead felt more like Bird Box. Didn’t think much of the acting, though I liked that the characters were all kind of unlikable but it would’ve worked better with better actors. Also didn’t think it was like ‘hell’ either; I thought the plot was really interesting and it could’ve explored this really well but the execution was pretty basic and lame.
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#7

Post by cinewest » May 14th, 2019, 3:09 am

Having not yet seen Denis' High Life, yet, I feel at a huge disadvantage in this conversation, though dialogue between opposing viewpoints touches on quite a lot that I am interested in:

Namely, what makes a movie great, and conversely, what detracts from the quality of a movie ?

Obviously, very much of this has to do with what your expectations of a movie are, and I would suggest that even the most open minded of us have a kind of internal checklist (conscious or unconscious) that a film must answer to and satisfy in some way. I would further suggest that the assumptions we make, as well as our perceptions of things are tethered to those expectations and the "values" they represent.

One very strange outcome of this is that I have often seen the very same criticisms made about very different kinds of films, and also often seen those same criticisms met by praise of the very same things. It's actually quite funny, especially when you realize that folks may be using the same words (so many terms and concepts are defined so differently), but speaking an entirely different language.

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#8

Post by Onderhond » May 14th, 2019, 7:19 am

cinewest wrote:
May 14th, 2019, 3:09 am
One very strange outcome of this is that I have often seen the very same criticisms made about very different kinds of films, and also often seen those same criticisms met by praise of the very same things. It's actually quite funny, especially when you realize that folks may be using the same words (so many terms and concepts are defined so differently), but speaking an entirely different language.
"Slow" is definitely one of those words, which, depending on one's preferences, can be used as a positive or negative. Some also use it instead of "boring", so even though there's a lot happening (objectively), the film could still be described as slow. It's also a very relative word, what's slow to a fan of action films could be be fast-paced to a fan of slow cinema.

Hence why I stressed the combination of the elements I named. Every element by itself can be found in one of my favorite films, it's the combination of all these things that makes it "standard arthouse" to me.

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#9

Post by viktor-vaudevillain » May 14th, 2019, 8:20 am

Onderhond wrote:
May 13th, 2019, 10:12 pm
viktor-vaudevillain wrote:
May 13th, 2019, 4:39 pm
I love when directors don't care for genre conventions at all in a genre film.
I don't love it or hate it, I was talking more about the execution of genre elements that areincluded. See, if you do choose to include a space ship, make it look like one. Not like some cheapish stage play décor. And when characters are floating in space, don't make it look like two images overlaid and leave it at that. Or the scene where Pattinson is sitting in that porch window, which is absolutely ridiculous. This is film, not a theatre production. If you can't do space well, you could this exact same film with a boat and an island and it wouldn't change a thing.

Even the outer hull of the space ship annoyed me. I get it's a conceptual idea, but even then make it more than an idea with some sloppily executed CG, just get the execution right too.

viktor-vaudevillain wrote:
May 13th, 2019, 4:39 pm
But, Onderhond, I simply don't know what you mean by "pretty cliché and expected arthouse affaire"? - What is an "art house film" after all? It's never been a genre per se...
It's not a genre, but it still has tell tale signs. Just like a "blockbuster" is not a genre, but has some common elements making it a blockbuster. An open-ended (or bad) ending, slow pacing, tortured acting, hidden layers, a loaded soundtrack. And it's not any of these elements separately, but the combination of it all which just makes it a little too predictable for me.
Well, I suppose I just don't care about how well a space ship looks. It's really not on my list of things that makes a film great. I'm a big fan of cheapish stage play décor though. I'm not in the slightest interested in "décor" resembling "reality" or whatever. For me, actually, the more fake or stagy it looks often makes it even better. Isn't this what film is? A distortion of reality? It sure shouldn't resemble reality. 'High Life' is not close to reality in any way, it is in some way - as you remark - conceptual. As in most Denis films it's not as much about how every picture looks, it's about the juxtaposition and constellation of the pictures in a grander scheme. If cheapish décor or some sloppy CGI (which I really dig, though!) gets her to her "point" then fine with me.

But Onderhond, we simply have very different thoughts of what a film should be...
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#10

Post by Onderhond » May 14th, 2019, 8:52 am

viktor-vaudevillain wrote:
May 14th, 2019, 8:20 am
But Onderhond, we simply have very different thoughts of what a film should be...
Oh, definitely :)

Just to clarify one more thing though, it's not really about looking "realistic" for me either. I can live with the doghouse spaceship idea for example, only it does have to look like both idea and execution got the proper attention. I just don't get why Denis bothered with the whole scifi setup when she wasn't going to properly execute it.

As for the sloppy CG, I can take it when it's clearly functional (to do something insane when the budget simply isn't there), I find it a lot harder to stomach in a film that is largely atmospheric. It's just too jarring.

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#11

Post by Lonewolf2003 » May 14th, 2019, 11:59 am

I liked the movie, but I get the critique that the movie does little with the sci-fi setup and might as well been set in any other confined space.

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#12

Post by cinewest » May 14th, 2019, 2:24 pm

Onderhond wrote:
May 14th, 2019, 7:19 am
cinewest wrote:
May 14th, 2019, 3:09 am
One very strange outcome of this is that I have often seen the very same criticisms made about very different kinds of films, and also often seen those same criticisms met by praise of the very same things. It's actually quite funny, especially when you realize that folks may be using the same words (so many terms and concepts are defined so differently), but speaking an entirely different language.
"Slow" is definitely one of those words, which, depending on one's preferences, can be used as a positive or negative. Some also use it instead of "boring", so even though there's a lot happening (objectively), the film could still be described as slow. It's also a very relative word, what's slow to a fan of action films could be be fast-paced to a fan of slow cinema.

Hence why I stressed the combination of the elements I named. Every element by itself can be found in one of my favorite films, it's the combination of all these things that makes it "standard arthouse" to me.
You threw out a few other things that I would more usually apply to mainstream cinema: Cliche ridden, Bad endings, Torturous performances, and overloaded soundtracks, but hey....

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#13

Post by matthewscott8 » May 14th, 2019, 2:46 pm

Lonewolf2003 wrote:
May 14th, 2019, 11:59 am
I liked the movie, but I get the critique that the movie does little with the sci-fi setup and might as well been set in any other confined space.
I guess other confined spaces you can escape from. Even if you can't escape from them you would feel you could, or you would have the possibility of communicating outside of it. The setup here does well establishing a zone of true hopelessness.

So you can use science fiction for many things, Arthur C Clarke used it to discuss the future of technology, but it's hard, for example, to believe Orwell was doing the same thing with 1984.

This movie is a "social science fiction", part of a rich and established sub-genre. When the crew are discussing how the tv signals follow them no matter how far out they go, this is clearly allegorical, a commentary on media invasiveness, not speculation on how much distance you can travel before you stop being able to watch TV (they were far beyond that point). When they have to file a report every day to keep the life support going, this isn't speculation on how you would sensibly run a vessel, it's entirely unsensible, but that's the point, this is how life works in many countries when you are on welfare, for example in the UK you have to file a report on your progress finding a job, e.g. where have you interviewed, no-one actually wants to read your report, it's just a mechanism to freeze your payments when you inevitably fail to make a meeting.

That being said, I think particularly the alligator's eye scene at the end is so well done that it seems strange to criticise the CGI of the movie, or see it as disinterested in science fiction.

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#14

Post by Onderhond » May 14th, 2019, 5:41 pm

cinewest wrote:
May 14th, 2019, 2:24 pm
You threw out a few other things that I would more usually apply to mainstream cinema: Cliche ridden, Bad endings, Torturous performances, and overloaded soundtracks, but hey....
Cliche ridden is more of an overarching problem. I think arthouse, commercial and genre cinema can be equally clichéd, it's just very different clichés.

The "bad" ending is one of them. Hollywood is often criticized for its positive endings, when making the switch to arthouse (years back) I noticed that many of these film have endings that are just as cliché, only they are negative endings (people dying, relationships ending, whatever). The open-ended ending is very similar.

Tortured performance rarely relate to blockbusters imo. You can have bad actors and bad performances, but they are usually very frivolous and light-weight. Arthouse cinema loves brooding characters, hunching as if life is wearing them down in a literal sense, staring pensively in the distance. Every movement is a struggle, smiles are forbidden, life is so hard etc etc.

There's a similar thing going on with soundtracks. With blockbusters they are very big and epic and sentimental, arthouse goes for whiney strings, lonely pianos and dark hummings. Both are equally predictable I feel.

Anyway, the problem with High Life was that it very much what I expected it to be. Fair enough if you like that kind of thing, I don't see "cliché" as a bad thing per se, but the fact that one likes something doesn't make it any less predictable of course.

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#15

Post by cinewest » May 14th, 2019, 11:43 pm

@onderhond,

I find your comments true enough, though in general also believe "arthouse" films (not talking about typical indies, here) in general, are a lot more original and interesting than mainstream movies, and that Denis, in particular has made some very unique and special ones that also happen to have amazing endings.
Will have to hold off on commenting about High Life until I see it, but I am not necessarily bothered by the same things you are, and try to approach each film I see on its own terms... after all, every movie is an imaginary journey, and there are no hard and fast rules about what cinema is or how it should be used.

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#16

Post by Onderhond » May 15th, 2019, 9:49 am

@cinewest: I agree to a large degree with what you're saying, but I'm also starting to feel a little bad about hijacking @matthewscott8's thread about High Life, so I'm going to leave it at that for now :)

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#17

Post by cinewest » May 15th, 2019, 10:31 am

Onderhond wrote:
May 15th, 2019, 9:49 am
@cinewest: I agree to a large degree with what you're saying, but I'm also starting to feel a little bad about hijacking @matthewscott8's thread about High Life, so I'm going to leave it at that for now :)
I hope Mathew doesn't feel that way. High Life is high on my list to see from last year, which is why I jumped in here with some thoughts related to the existing conversation, which I hope will continue.

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#18

Post by matthewscott8 » May 16th, 2019, 4:45 pm

No issues here.

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#19

Post by Onderhond » May 16th, 2019, 4:53 pm

cinewest wrote:
May 14th, 2019, 11:43 pm
I find your comments true enough, though in general also believe "arthouse" films (not talking about typical indies, here) in general, are a lot more original and interesting than mainstream movies
I think the potential to be a lot better is absolutely there. In absolute numbers, I think there about the same amount of derivative and boring films, regardless whether you're looking at arthouse, commercial or genre cinema. But looking at the good stuff, arthouse cinema has way more potential to excel than the others. It makes it extra disappointing when that potential isn't put to good use though :)
cinewest wrote:
May 14th, 2019, 11:43 pm
and that Denis, in particular has made some very unique and special ones that also happen to have amazing endings.
I'm not a big fan of Denis, haven't seen too much of her work, but I ranked Trouble Every Day (3.5*) and Beau Travail (2.5*) both higher than High Life, I also remember both films as being more unique compared to this one. The films I ranked lower are short/omnibus efforts (Venice 70: Future Reloaded & Ten Minutes Older: The Cello), so those aren't as easy to compare.

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#20

Post by matthewscott8 » May 16th, 2019, 9:44 pm

Trouble Every Day was sensational. I listen to the Tindersticks soundtrack every month and it breaks my heart every time.

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