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Venice 78: “Dune”, Denis Villeneuve’s extragalactic humanism

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After the world premiere presentation at the 78th Venice Film Festival, last September, it landed in Italian cinemas “Dunes”By the Canadian director Denis Villeneuve, who in recent years has confirmed himself with the last three films (see also “Arrival” and “Blade Runner 2049”) a tireless and experienced traveler between worlds and cosmogonies, as much as Chris Nolan (“Inception”, “Dunkirk”, ” Tenet ”) as regards the constant coming and going over time (both of the story and of the story).

First part of the ambitious film transposition of the cycle of “Dune”, by the science fiction writer Frank Herbert (six novels, the first of 1965), which anticipated themes in unsuspecting times ecological, politicians And humanistic, setting them against the utopian background of a cosmogony of the future (more than a decade before the Lucasian saga of “Star Wars”), the film conceives the show as a total, magmatic, even a little grandiloquent aesthetic experience, and leads it to at its extreme offshoots.

““ Dune ”is a film that must be seen on the big screen, and I hope it will bring the audience back to the theater,” the director underlined during the presentation in Venice.

The film was dreamed, designed and shot with IMAX in mind. When you watch this movie on the big screen, it’s almost a physical experience

We are dealing with a work of complex gestation, which aims to restore the vastness and magnificence offictional universe of the fictional cycle where two illustrious precedents have failed: we are talking about “Dune” by David Lynch (1984; despite the sensational flop of the time, which was not entirely negligible) and the adaptation project put in place in the mid-seventies by the Chilean director and writer Alejandro Jodorowsky (later summarized in its ups and downs by the 2013 documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, directed by Frank Pavich).

Here – unlike what happens in Lynch’s film – it is not an impersonal voice off to tell the story, but it is the protagonist himself, the noble Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet, ephebic enough for the role of a visionary young duke but, in some ways, still immature) to take on an archetypal narrative full of philosophical and metaphysical implications, where – as in most epic constructs – it is a empire fruit of pervasive and evil power, and to assume the burden is a predestined ‘malgré lui’.

At the Venetian presentation, Villeneuve mentions the contribution of Eric Roth (among his scripts also that of Forrest Gump): “It was unparalleled”, admits the director, who among the films and filmmakers of reference for his work likes to quote “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1969) by Stanley Kubrick and the figures of Steven Spielberg, Jean-Luc Godard and Jacques Audiard; “We plunged into a future under the control of an interstellar empire and into the story of young Paul Atreides and his destiny: a boy of noble heritage who moved to the planet Arrakis-Dune with his parents. Here lies a precious resource, a sort of spice blend capable of amplifying human potential, but the struggle to conquer it triggers wars. We have mixed drama and fantasy in equal measure ».

The soundtrack composed by Hans Zimmer, hypnotic, dominated by percussion, returns a sense of apocalyptic grandeur that pervades this first episode in which love, death, dynastic issues, prophetic dreams, visions, put to iron and fire, are seamlessly mixed in a chromatic transition from browns to the ocher of the external environments (it has been noted by critics, correctly, that the desert and sunny landscapes of the planet Dune recall those of Afghanistan) to the chiaroscuro refractions of the interiors.

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Says Zimmer: «I composed the music both during the production and in the editing phase. The images of the film inspired me with notes, harmonies and dissonances. I think that together with Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk”, “Dune” is the commitment that in recent years has most excited and involved me and, yes, it is true that like Villeneuve I am a Radiohead fan ».

The cast is also excellent, varied to say the least, with the two ‘big bits’ embodied by Charlotte Rampling, terrible and mysterious as the reverend mother Bene Gesserit Gaius Helen Mohiam, who subjects the predestined Paul to a very hard and painful test of initiation; and Javier Bardem, earthy, shady and seductive in those of Stilgar, the chief of the Fremen tribe, the natives of Dune. «Environmental issues are important to me – explained the Spanish star – for this reason I immediately felt connected with my character, who defends the environment so that his people can survive. Talking about this issue is a step towards the right direction ».

The new “Dune” is a film that undoubtedly points to spectacularity: which, however, fits harmoniously into a rigorous and plausible narrative system.

«I spent months searching for each location with the photography director: it was a fascinating and creative journey, especially in Norway and Jordan », Villeneuve reiterated in Venice. «I would like to reassure the fans of the universe created by Herbert: my primary goal has always been to be faithful to the novel. I wanted there to be a sort of ‘current of the senses’ between the screen and the audience, to pass the emotions that I myself, very young, had experienced. I read “Dune” as a teenager and I have always wanted to make a film from a book that for me tightens the relationship between men and nature. As a boy I was undecided between the career of a biologist and that of a director, and even afterwards I have always considered my work as that of a biologist of images and emotions ».

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“Dunes” (USA, Hungary, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, 2021)

Direction: Denis Villeneuve

Duration: 155 ‘

Film script: Jon Spaihts, Denis Villeneuve, Eric Roth (from the novel of the same name by Frank Herbert)

Photography: Greig Fraser

Assembly: Joe Walker

Music: Hans Zimmer

Cast: Timothée Chalamet, Rebecca Ferguson, Oscar Isaac, Josh Brolin, Stellan Skarsgård, Dave Bautista, Sharon Duncan Brewster, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Zendaya, Chang Chen, David Dastmalchian, Charlotte Rampling, Jason Momoa, Javier Bardem

Production: Denis Villeneuve, Legendary Pictures (Mary Parent, Cale Boyter), Joe Caracciolo Jr.

Distribution: Warner Bros.

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