An Abridged Film Audit: Denis Villeneuve

I decided to launch my film review page and site because I was feeling a little “isolated” on social media. Despite what the “self-care/self-esteem” op-eds and think pieces say regarding “likes”, the culture/purpose of social media is to want to feel seen/heard/validated—hopefully by your friends, but if not your friends, then at least by others in the world who share similar interests and/or opinions. So I detoured from my typical social media activity and focused on finding a social media community with those who shared an interests with watching and reviewing films. 

Though this decision has been a positive one, I still kind of find myself “isolated” at times for one main reason—race. There aren’t a lot of black and brown movie reviewers/voices on social media which means I constantly worry if I am “at a table where others even want to sit.” 

Additionally there’s an understanding that I have, due to being a person of color who has had to watch years of white films in rotation with films from my own culture, of the monopoly that white actors, directors, producers, etc have had on the industry that make it seem as if some cinematic artists can’t do any wrong—That everything they do is a work of art. But I’ve noticed since being part of this new community that my movie critiques are not as “black and white” [no pun intended] as others (possibly due to my diverse film viewing experience), and that I don’t have the same reaction to certain films and/or cinematic artists as others astoundingly do…such as the unrelenting love for Denis Villeneuve.

Villeneuve’s latest film is Dune. Dune is the first film by Villeneuve that I genuinely had interest in after seeing the trailer, and is the first film of his that I have spent money on to watch in theaters because of that genuine interest (I rented Enemy on Amazon Prime earlier this year—which is my actual first ever Villeneuve film experience—after it was recommended by a Villeneuve fan). Everyone else who has watched Dune left theaters with high praise! I left theaters feeling “just okay…” Here I am seeing this final product as a C overall, where as everyone else sees it as no less than a B+…

Seeing it as “the best film of the year so far” and “a model, cinematic experience”…

And I am just…lost/confused.

So after engaging in a few comment-dialogue on review posts that had resonating points, I was asked to check out Arrival to see if that might change my mind about Villeneuve. Not only did I watch Arrival, but I also decided to watch the most discussed film by Villeneuve before Dune—Blade Runner 2049. 

Below is a condensed version of my typical review format for the only 4 films I’ve watched by Villeneuve—Enemy, Arrival, Dune, and Blade Runner 2049. I’ve also ranked them based on my viewings. **FYI: Dune and Enemy have full reviews on my IG Page and blog site. 

4 Denis Villeneuve films ranked

* * *

Overall, one thing I won’t take away from this man is his eye for directing. Denis Villeneuve is possibly one of the best directors living right now due to how stunningly smooth and technical his films are, and his very particular color palette to shoot in while still maintaining such beauty and technique. 

However, my/the issue with 3 of the 4 films all have to do with a lack of clear theme and/or character development. Maybe there’s so much focus on the visual that these things sort of get forgotten? Or maybe due to the genre, there’s an expectation for viewers to get so enthralled with the experience that they/we don’t notice those “subtle” things as long as the story still moves forward? 

No matter the reason, I notice(d). I care/find it important. And because Villeneuve, whether intentional or not, is seen as an auteur, I hold him accountable. The same way I hold/held John Singleton accountable for his work with Baby Boy, and Spike Lee for Chiraq—they aren’t above feedback, and they can still make mistakes. As Ann Hornaday mentions in her book, “It’s the director who is ultimately in charge of the aesthetic experience of the viewers, directing their attention visually and aurally and guiding their emotions.” 

Also, I will say that I now see the reason why Blade Runner 2049 is his most talked about/acclaimed film compared to his others. 

…But Dune definitely has a deserved nomination spot this year when it comes to Best Director, Best Cinematography, and Best Visual Effects. 

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