- The director's cutDenis Villeneuve before Blade Runner 2049
Denis Villeneuve did not exactly come out of nowhere when he was tasked with directing a sequel to Ridley Scott's iconic Blade Runner (US 1982); he had, after all, already been nominated for Best Director in 2017 for his work on Arrival (US/Canada/India 2016). But many Hollywood insiders must have wondered why this relative outsider, a French Canadian after all, had been entrusted with such a prestigious project with a budget of over US$150 million. Certainly, the conventional answer is that he was hired to bring an auteur element to the project, paying due homage to Scott's visually stunning original.1 By choosing a Québécois, a North American with a specifically French flair in his filmmaking baggage, producers also sought, perhaps, to ensure the film's international success and to position it as a prestige film that-like its precursor-would garner long-term critical acclaim instead of the short-term financial payoff of the more typical Hollywood sf blockbuster.
Before he arrived in Hollywood, Villeneuve had established himself as a major force in Québec, part of a 'nouvelle generation' (new generation) of French-language filmmakers (see Lever; Melnyk; Poirier). Incendies (Canada/ France 2010)-his adaptation, with Valérie Beaugrand-Champagne, of Wajdi Mouawad's Oedipal tragedy set during and after the Lebanese Civil War-had garnered international attention, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011. Like the original play, the film's mythic framework stretches the limits of standard chronology, and its elliptical narrative and stunning photography (by Villeneuve's long-time teammate, André Turpin), sealed Villeneuve's status as a Québécois auteur. At this point in his career, no one could predict his establishment as a Hollywood sf auteur, but the seeds were planted in his earliest works in Québec. This symposium piece maps Villeneuve's pre-Hollywood career, demonstrating his affinity for narrative frameworks that stretch the limits of the strictly 'realist', [End Page 119] and traces the roots of Blade Runner 2049's (Villeneuve US/UK/Canada/ Hungary/Spain 2017) visual style.
Already in his first foray into the fiction feature, Villeneuve reveals an affinity for the science fictional, and begins to outline his distinct visual style developed largely in collaboration with cinematographer André Turpin. 'Le Technétium', its title referencing the radioactive element of that name, was in a segment of the French-language omnibus, Cosmos (Canada 1996). For the project, producer Roger Frappier gathered six promising young filmmakers, weaving together several short narratives through the device of a Greek cabbie named Cosmos (Igor Ovadis), for this black-and-white film marketed toward a trendy, art-house crowd. Not only does the film's title nod to the Carl Sagan classic, also suggesting that the stories told here represent a certain microcosm of contemporary life, cinematographer André Turpin's segment 'Jules et Fanny' features a pseudo-philosophical discussion of atoms as energy and matter as, therefore, non-existent, calling attention to the speculative bent of the entire work. Villeneuve's own segment is a self-conscious meta-commentary on filmmaking in a society increasingly driven by technology and visual media. A young director, Morille (David La Haye), is dropped off by a cabbie at 'Techno's Hair Shop'; inside, an entire television studio is set up, with a dance floor, techno music (of course) and a trendy talk-show host who will interview Morille on the 'Tekno Show'. The fact that he must have his hair styled, and that hairdressing genius Techno comments on Morille's new look on camera, is, of course, a send up of the superficiality of contemporary visual culture. Ironically, as we shall see, Villeneuve's oeuvre has been repeatedly read by critics as itself overly focused on the visual, lacking political substance.
Enigmatic and open-ended, Villeneuve's first fiction feature, also produced by Frappier and shot by Turpin, reveals an interest in the supra-realist in its very title, Un 32 août sur terre (Canada 1998). Written by Villeneuve, as is the case for his four Québ...