HIGH LIFE / CERT: 18 / DIRECTOR: CLAIRE DENIS / SCREENPLAY: CLAIRE DENIS, JEAN-POL FARGEAU, GEOFF COX / STARRING: ROBERT PATTINSON, JULIETTE BINOCHE, MIA GOTH, JESSIE ROTH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Set on a spaceship in the far reaches of the universe, a single father and his young daughter are the last remaining survivors of a scientific experiment turned suicide mission in Claire Denis’ visually striking yet narratively muddled English Language debut High Life.
From the outside, this film looks like a deep character-driven narrative that taps into human nature and the will to adapt and survive – and on most accounts it successfully accomplishes that, but in others it does not as it transforms into a story that is full of unlikeable characters and possesses some truly difficult to watch material.
The story begins with Monte (played by the ever-superb Robert Pattinson) who is having to jettison a corpse of a blonde woman into space before returning to care for his infant child, all whilst sustaining the onboard garden for food and sending reports back down to earth. As the narrative progresses, we discover that the members of the crew on the ship are all criminals who have been sent to space to live out their days and take part in an experiment to see if they can reproduce whilst millions of lightyears away from home – this is explained in one of the biggest throwaway scenes of the year with a reporter interviewing a man on a train.
But soon after the film devolves into a brutal and uncomfortable array of scenes involving rape and artificial insemination by the crazy doctor Dib (a zany performance by Juliette Binoche) on board as the crew members begin to lose their minds. Essentially the film feels like two distinctly different stories at opposite ends of the spectrum.
The film only excels in the scenes between the flashbacks to the savagery when Monte is left to grow as a character as he is forced into fatherhood and as a member of the audience, one would have much rather seen more of that grounded and real interaction than the twisted drug-fuelled erotica that was placed before us – however, the cinematography of Yorick Le Sauk has to be commended as even though these scenes are hard to view, they are shot in an interesting way.
That being said, High Life does invoke a variety of emotions that makes it stand out from its peers, but goes too far in the repulsive direction that will alienate viewers and is a muddled narrative when not in the strong screen presence of star Robert Pattinson who continues to break out of the glittery mould that he has was once trapped in.
The special features contained on the DVD release of High Life are a selection of interviews with Director Claire Denis on her focus to filmmaking and the making of her film – an interesting watch for budding filmmakers.
BFI MASTERCLASS WITH CLAIRE DENIS [48:58] – An full-length video of “An Audience with Claire Denis” that took place at the BFI in London.
Q&A WITH CLAIRE DENIS & MIA GOTH [19:23] – A Q&A with Director Claire Denis and Actor Mia Goth after a screen of High Life at the BFI in London.