TIFF Leans Into Blade Runner 2049 Hype with High Concept: The Films of Denis Villeneuve


Next week, Blade Runner 2049 releases to immense hype, sans the original’s helmer Ridley Scott. That this is a good thing is almost undeniable, after Scott’s belaboured Alien sequels Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. Instead, fans will get a new replicant iteration, courtesy of French Canadian director Denis Villeneuve. That’s unequivocally awesome, cuz Villeneuve has been doing great work for awhile.

Showcasing Villeneuve’s talents is an easy win for TIFF, and they’re showing four key films from his modest filmography this week, starting tonight, Thursday, September 28th, with the inscrutable Maelström.


Maelström is Villeneuve’s second feature, from 2000. It starts weird and stays there, narrated by a talking fish that’s being hacked to death on a sinister butcher’s block. The circular story (Villeneuve is a keen devotee of circularity) follows Bibiane (Marie Jose-Crozée), a clothier and the daughter of a fashion icon. Her life unravels under the pressures of success and alcoholism. Driving home one night wasted and tired, she hits a pedestrian and keeps driving. The man, an elderly fishmonger, crawls home to die sitting in his small kitchen. Reading the strange story of a man hit by a car dying in his home, she’s wracked with guilt and spirals further out of control.


Maelström gets pretty unwieldy itself by this point. Heavy bursts of classical music come out of nowhere to punctuate the oddest moments, and the fish’s fits of narration as its flesh is cut piece by piece are a nervy bleak joke. Bibi’s anguish is sketched out by a series of too philosophical conversations with her best friend Clair (Stephanie Morgenstern). The movie is saved by its third act, with the arrival of the fishmonger’s son, Evian (Jean-Nicolas Verreault). A professional diver, he comes back to take care of his father’s funeral. The movie loops back in time to meaningful effect, Bibi and Evian falling into each other’s orbit gradually, but with gravitational attraction. Already unglued, striking up a relationship with the son of the man she murdered seems like the worst thing Bibi could do. It’s a heavy quandary, but the film ends on a quietly affirming note, though perhaps not if you’re a fish.

The High Concept programme continues with Incendies on Friday, September 29th, Prisoners on Saturday, September 30th and Sicario on Sunday, October 1st. For more info and tickets, see here.

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