The Beautiful, Emotional Movies of Dune Director Denis Villeneuve
The novel "Dune" by Frank Herbert has attracted and confounded filmmakers for decades. In December, French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve will reveal his new adaptation of the story about warring clans on a desert planet guarded by mile-long worm-like creatures. DUNE stars Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, and Zendaya, and the first images promise an austere and dramatic take on the story.
More than one director has tried to adapt the novel and failed, echoing a warning given to the main character, Paul Atreides, early in the book. David Lynch made a visually lush but not entirely satisfying version of the story in 1984, so will Villeneuve's version succeed where others have failed? We think it will, in part because his other movies are so good.
You've likely seen at least one or two of Villeneuve's movies, but there's a lot to discover in his visually stunning and emotionally compelling films. Let's look back at his work.
[Image Credit: Alliance Films]
Denis Villeneuve had been making movies for more than a decade when he crafted one of the most chilling movies of the '00s. POLYTECHNIQUE is a black and white recreation of the 1989 massacre at the École Polytechnique in Montréal, during which a 25-year old man murdered fourteen women in an anti-feminist rampage. Villeneuve's movie is cold and observational in a way that indicts the killer's actions by simply depicting the day's events.
[Image Credit: Sony Pictures Classics]
A multi-generational family mystery that builds to a devastating set of revelations, INCENDIES is Villeneuve's early triumph and the movie that truly started to expose him to audiences outside Canada. Following the death of their mother, twins Jeanne and Simon (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin and Maxim Gaudette) learn of a brother they never knew existed when a request in their mother's will sends them on a journey to the Middle East. There, they will uncover shattering truths about their family in an eye-widening climax to this tense unearthing of buried secrets.
[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
At this point, Villeneuve was known for dark dramas and had a good reputation with actors. PRISONERS brought the filmmaker into the mainstream with a top-tier cast (Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, and Paul Dano) and a grim tale about kidnapped children and cycles of violence powered by grief. Perhaps more importantly, PRISONERS represents the director's first collaboration with two master craftsmen who would define the next stage of his filmmaking: Composer Jóhann Jóhannsson and cinematographer Roger Deakins.
[Image Credit: A24]
2013 was truly a massive year for Villeneuve. PRISONERS went into release in September of that year just as ENEMY, which was actually shot first, in 2012, debuted at the Toronto Film Festival. ENEMY is the smaller and far stranger film, with Jake Gyllenhaal playing dual roles as a meek college professor who discovers his exact double, a manipulative actor, and struggles to maintain his sanity as their lives intertwine, drawn together by dreams, sex and a giant spider. Like something out of Kafka, this one is dreamlike, disturbing, and open to interpretation.
[Image Credit: Lionsgate]
The trio of Villeneuve, Jóhannsson, and Deakins reunited for this hard-hitting thriller about a morally upright FBI agent (Emily Blunt) who is drawn into a multi-agency task force to take down a Mexican cartel boss. When she finds a reason to question the motives of other agents (played by Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin) things get very messy. SICARIO is a unique approach to the drug trade thriller, and thanks to Deakins and Jóhannsson it is seductively and uncannily gorgeous.
[Image Credit: Paramount Pictures]
At this point you might be thinking "wow, this guy's movies are bleak," and you're not exactly wrong. ARRIVAL stands out as something different. Linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) gets the opportunity of a lifetime when a dozen alien ships appear in the skies over cities around the world. As Banks and a physicist (Jeremy Renner) learn how to communicate with the aliens, her very understanding of time and life evolves to something far beyond human experience. ARRIVAL is about cooperation, communication, and learning to embrace the beautiful moments in life, even knowing that they will end.
Blade Runner 2049 (2017)
[Image Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
Making a sequel to one of the most well-known cult sci-fi movies must have been both a dream and a daunting undertaking. BLADE RUNNER fans have a very specific approach to that movie, and there's almost no way to satisfy everyone. So Villeneuve, with writers Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, came up with a beautiful and thematically ideal movie that expands on the ideas of the original movie while developing the world and introducing fascinating new characters. In 20 years, BLADE RUNNER 2049 will have the same fervent audience as Ridley Scott's original.