One of the most influential directors of our time, Denis Villeneuve returns on 29 February with the second part of Dune. In a career spanning almost three decades, he has won more than 90 awards, been nominated for three Oscars, and his films are mostly synonymous with guaranteed quality cinema. Over the past dozen years or so, Villeneuve’s work has been hugely acclaimed by critics and audiences worldwide, and he has become a regular at awards ceremonies and festivals.
In 2021, in the shadow of COVID-19, Dune was a $402 million box-office hit, despite its simultaneous streaming release. It also received 10 Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and walked away with six wins (Original Score, Sound, Editing, Cinematography, Production Design, and Visual Effects). And since he recently told a press conference that the sequel would beat the first part, sci-fi fans have been on pins and needles… “For me, this film is much better than the first one,” Villeneuve said. “There’s something more alive about it. There’s a connection with the characters. I tried to achieve an intensity and quality of emotion that I didn’t achieve with the first part, but I did with the second part. I’m not saying the film is perfect, but I’m much more satisfied with the second part than the first. I look forward to sharing it with fans and moviegoers. The first film was much more meditative and contemplative. We followed a young man who discovers a new planet, a new culture. The second film… was much more action than the first. More muscular.”
Villeneuve burst onto the international scene in 2010 with Incendies, which earned him his first Oscar nomination. The drama, based on a play by Wajdi Mouawad, centres on a pair of Canadian twins, Jeanne and Simon, who are mourning the death of their mother, Nawal (Lubna Azabal). According to Nawal’s will, the twins must travel to Lebanon, with clear instructions: Jeanne must find her father, whom neither she nor Simon knew, and Simon must find his long-lost brother, whose existence he never knew. On their journey of discovery, they not only meet their families, but also become much closer to themselves. Villeneuve’s visual flair has stripped away the stage constraints of the work and brilliantly transposed it to cinema, allowing the story to breathe as a film.
Today Villeneuve’s name is synonymous with visual magic. One of his best-known works, Prisoners is perhaps the only film of his to take a very different direction – it is the dark, shadowy, claustrophobic atmosphere that makes this thriller so effective. The film centres on the kidnapping of two young girls. Their presumed abductor forces the two obsessed and angry fathers to cross a line to somehow bring them to justice. The film has become a true classic over the years, thanks in part to an excellent cast (Hugh Jackman, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Viola Davis), of whom Jackman’s surprisingly raw performance as the vengeful father is perhaps the most memorable.
At the same time, the director confirmed at the end of the year that he would like to direct Dune 3, based on Frank Herbert’s novel Dune: Messiah, and has already started work on the script. The full trilogy, however, will have to wait a few more years. “I don’t know exactly when I’m going back to Arrakis. Maybe I’ll take a detour first, just to get away from the sun for a while. For my sanity, I might do something else in the meantime, but again, my dream is to go one last time to this planet that I love.”
And what will this detour be? We don’t know for sure yet, but among other things, a large-scale Cleopatra project has been discussed. Considering that the Canadian director has made his mark on international audiences with a series of compelling character studies, all of which he has then embedded in audience-friendly film genres, be it crime dramas (Prisoners) or action thrillers (Sicario). In recent years, however, he has undoubtedly focused on telling his complex stories through the medium of sci-fi/fantasy. This platform has allowed him to add an extra layer of visual magic to his work and has brought his craft to a whole new audience.