(director/writer: Claire Denis; screenwriters: Jean-Pol Fargeau, in collaboration with Geoff Cox; cinematographer: Yorick Le Saux; editor: Guy Lecorne; music: Stuart A. Staples; cast: Robert Pattinson (Monte), Juliette Binoche (Dr. Dibs), Andre Benjamin (Tcherny), Mia Goth (Boyse), Agata Buzek (Nansen), Lars Eidenger (Chandra), Scarlett Lindsey (Willow, baby); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Andrew Lauren, D.J. Gugenheim, Claudia Steffen, Christophe Friedel, Laurence Clerc, Olivier Thery Lapiney, Oliver Dungey, Klaudia Smieja; Alcatraz Films/A24; 2018-USA/UK/Germany/France/Poland-in English)
“An amazing cinematic achievement.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The esteemed French auteur Clare Denis (“White Material”/”35 Shots of Rum”) brilliantly shoots her first film in English and her first sci-fi film. It’s almost plotless as a theoretical film that has more of a zing than the usual space film. Besides being visually stunning, it has a terrific electronic score by Tindersticks’ frontman Stuart A. Staples and offers an unconventional sci-fi story that is more a Claire Denis story than a space one,. It works as an amazing cinematic achievement.
HL is co-written by Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau and Geoff Cox. The shocking erotic sci-fi/horror story is set aboard a self-sustaining spacecraft operated by a rag-tag assortment of multi-racial death-row prisoners, who were sent a few decades ago on a probable suicide mission to explore a black hole, past the solar system, to possibly harvest it for energy for use on Earth. The prisoners (whose crimes are not divulged) had been given a choice of execution or volunteering as guinea pigs for an experimental space mission.
The mission employs a fertility program that has restrictions against sex in order to investigate the thwarted desires of humans when in isolation. The research scientist Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche), who is also aboard the death ship and whose violent crimes are made known, takes charge of the experiments. The men are permitted to masturbate in a soundproof metal “fuckbox” chamber, and provide sperm samples to Dibs for evaluation while the women provide the eggs. We soon learn the only mission survivor is a man of few words but lots of heart, the celibate Monte (Robert Pattinson), and, quite possibly, his baby daughter Willow (Scarlett Lindsey, the child of one of Pattinson’s best friends). Earlier we witness Monte send his dead colleagues floating into space, while in their spacesuits. The determined to survive Monte pilots on and performs all his stipulated duties despite no contact with Earth and that it might just be easier dying than going through all this trouble for nothing, as the film veers back and forth from the present to the past and details emerge of the prior space journey. In order to renew life support, Monte must send back a daily report to Earth so life support can be continued. But there’s no guarantee he’s reaching Earth or if there is still a place to receive his messages. One of the prisoner astronauts, Tcherny (Andre Benjamin), who found a home for his humanity in gardening aboard the shuttle, relates that he chose the mission because he at least wanted to do something for humanity before dying.Boyse (Mia Goth) is Willow’s unrepentant mother who is the one likely impregnated with Monte’s sperm through Dr. Dibs.
After many years lost in space, with Monte’s clothes now in tatters, his hair greying and Willow an adolescent, the film comes in for an ambiguous ending. Denis is more concerned with the affects of isolation on her subjects and on their behavior during this period than she is in learning about space travel. It’s that kind of unique space film that could have been shot on Earth, in a science lab, and the results would have still matched what the director was looking for–as she’s more interested in the journey than the destination to nowhere, which might be a metaphor for life on Earth.
REVIEWED ON 4/1/2019 GRADE: A https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/