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Sitting in a London Cinema for a screening of Frank Herbert’s adaptation of the classic science fiction novel

Earlier this summer, sitting in a London cinema for a screening of Denis Villeneuve’s hugely anticipated, pandemic-delayed adaptation of Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel “Dune,” I found myself unexpectedly close to tears. I’d not been in a movie theater in almost two years, and I’d forgotten what it was like. Forgotten how the light inside a big auditorium always feels dusty and late-night weary, no matter what time it is. Forgotten the particular smell of popcorn and carpet cleaner, how it evokes a childhood memory of brushing my fingers across the static on the glass of a just-switched-on TV set; forgotten the vertiginous scale of the space and the screen. note: After – Chapitre 3 2021 Film Complet en Français

When the film began, I heard the thump of a heartbeat working in counterpoint to my own, bursts of percussive discordance as Hans Zimmer’s score cut in, and then harsh desert light was burning the backs of my eyes and I was somewhere else entirely, witnessing the brutal quelling of an insurgency on a distant planet — and after a while, I realized I was whispering, “Oh, my God” under my breath over and over again. Afterward, I walked along empty streets with my head full of deserts and burning date palms, vast ships, monstrous sandworms and a sense of wonderment that the book’s visions had been so exquisitely realized. Josh Brolin, who plays the warrior-minstrel Gurney Halleck in the movie, took a lifelong “Dune”-fan friend to a screening in New York, and at the end of the movie the friend started screaming: “That was it! That was it! That’s what I saw! That’s what I saw when I was a kid!” note: BAC Nord 2021 Film Complet en Français

Featuring stars like Timothée Chalamet, Oscar Isaac, Rebecca Ferguson, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgard, Zendaya and Javier Bardem, “Dune” was three and a half years in production and cost approximately $165 million to make. Forgoing the green screens of most sci-fi movies, Villeneuve shot on location in the deserts of Jordan and the United Arab Emirates, where actors sweated in rubber costumes in 120-degree heat. When Warner Brothers announced that “Dune” would be streamed on HBO Max at the same time as its U.S. theatrical release, Villeneuve wrote a blistering response in Variety denouncing their action. “It was for my mental sanity,” he later told me. “I was so angry, bitter and wounded,” he said, of the studio’s choice. He understood the pressures of the pandemic, but he had made “Dune” as a love letter to the big screen. The decision to stream the film seemed to Villeneuve symptomatic of threats to the cinematic tradition itself, which he sees as fulfilling an ancient human need for communal storytelling. note: Black Widow 2021 Film Complet en Français

All this made me nervous as I sat down at my kitchen table for my first interview with the director, conducted over Zoom because of the pandemic. I knew Villeneuve was a fiercely idealistic figure, and expected a forbidding auteur. But when his face appeared on my laptop screen, I was struck by how kind it seemed, and slightly melancholy. His hair and beard were lockdown-disheveled, and he wore a dark open-necked shirt and a pair of earbuds. Speaking in a soft Québécois accent, he apologized for his English and initially radiated an air of cautious politesse. I later discovered that he was as anxious about the interview as I was. When I held up my “Star Wars” mug to demonstrate my sci-fi credentials, his eyebrows rose high over his half-rim glasses, and he grinned. note: Candyman 2021 Film Complet en Français

An environmental fable, a parable of the oil economy, a critique of colonialism, a warning against putting your faith in charismatic leaders, “Dune” tells the story of Paul Atreides, an aristocratic teenager who travels to a distant land; joins with a desert people, the Fremen; becomes their messiah; and leads them into revolt against their colonial oppressors. Paul’s story recalls “Lawrence of Arabia” (Herbert was influenced by T.E. Lawrence), and “Lawrence” came to mind as I watched “Dune.” Each movie is a character-driven geopolitical epic, each was filmed in Jordan’s Wadi Rum and each is a spectacularly beautiful cinematic ode to the desert. note: Conjuring 3 2021 Film Complet en Français

Villeneuve’s movies have often revisited desert landscapes: salt flats in Utah in his first movie, “Un 32 Août Sur Terre” (“August 32nd on Earth”); the Middle Eastern desert of “Incendies”; the Chihuahuan desert for “Sicario”; the sands under postapocalyptic fog shrouding Las Vegas in “Blade Runner 2049.” When he told me his impulse to make “Dune” was just a pretext to go back deep into the desert, he laughed. Villeneuve’s laughter, I would learn, often precedes statements of searching honesty. He loves deserts for the feeling of isolation they bring, he explained, how they “reflect your interiority, and the deeper you go in the desert, the deeper you go in yourself. That kind of introspection always had a very deep melancholic impact on me,” he added. “In the desert I feel strangely at home.” He drew a parallel with Paul Atreides, played by Chalamet in “Dune.” “When Paul is for the first time in contact with the desert,” Villeneuve explained, it “feels strangely familiar. That for me is the moment that deeply moves me. The fact that he is in a totally alien landscape, but he feels at home.” note: Cruella 2021 Film Complet en Français

Villeneuve has a particular talent for making the alien feel familiar. Working with renowned cinematographers like Roger Deakins, Greig Fraser and Bradford Young, he has an extraordinary ability to ground sci-fi in a sense of lived reality. When I watched his 2016 movie, “Arrival,” in which Amy Adams’s academic linguist learns to communicate with visiting aliens, its monolithic spaceships hanging above lush valleys and rolling fog felt impossible but somehow absolutely plausible. “Arrival” can also be read as an exquisite allegory for the power of cinema: Fragile humans in a dark space face a luminous screen behind which strange forms move and speak in a visual language that, once deciphered, transforms the world. note: Don’t breathe 2 2021 Film Complet en Français

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