Blade Runner 2049 is the latest directorial achievement of Denis Villeneuve, who was previously best known for his feature films Arrival (2016), Sicario (2015), Prisoners (2013), Enemy (2013) and Incendies (2010). In our latest video we explore the 14 signature trademarks of the Oscar-nominated director.
Transcript provided by Youtube:
You know you’re watching a Denis Villeneuve film if…
You see a slow panning shot or pullback shot – often the film’s opening shot – that reveals
space little by little.
Villeneuve is carefully choosing what to show us and what to keep hidden, and he often reveals
that a violent act has been occurring just outside of the frame without our knowledge.
Reaction shots come first, making us wait to see what has provoked a character’s shock
Villeneuve makes what we can’t see more intimidating than what we can, by revealing
important information slowly and offering us only fleeting glimpses of major events.
At times, the camera seems like the gaze of a covert person watching or following the
characters, and we feel that they are in imminent danger
And the excruciatingly slow pace of some shots reminds us that we are not in control.
There’s a strong female protagonist who is an outsider in an unfamiliar or male-dominated
She’s a fish out of water in a place where the regular rules do not apply.
The character feels displaced or isolated, and we often hear very little about her backstory
or significant personal relationships.
Meanwhile, in Arrival, Sicario and Polytechnique, the character’s impressive sense of professionalism
updates the ethos of the traditional male hero of a Western or a Clint Eastwood film.
There’s a language barrier that represents both his characters’ difficulties expressing
themselves and larger obstacles to human connection.
The protagonist struggles to communicate with a different species or with people from a
Villeneuve’s films do not always reveal an optimistic view of the possibilities for
His characters distrust others and physical obstructions and barriers emphasize
how they find it hard to communicate.
But Villeneuve does give us hope that we can overcome these roadblocks.
Darkness is dominant in many frames, often to symbolize how much the characters don’t
They are kept in the dark, literally and figuratively, about significant aspects of their lives.
The focused use of light shows us that hope is no competition for the darkness that
overwhelms these characters.
In Arrival Villeneuve reverses this pattern — while the characters fear darkness and
the unknown it represents, the story proves they shouldn’t be afraid of the unfamiliar,
as the mysterious aliens turn out to be allies.
You feel an intimacy with both victims and villains.
We see characters in private moments of vulnerability and feel compassion due to their lonely or
A mix of faraway, close-up, and follow shots attach us to the characters when no one else
can see them, creating a unique bond between us and them.
We see Violent acts at Unexpected Moments.
The specter of disaster is ever-present, a part of life rather than a dramatic device,
and often catches us by surprise.
Violence is inescapable and inevitable …depicted in a straightforward way, unfiltered,
as a daily fact.
In most of his films, Villeneuve takes a stark view of the human capacity for hurting and
A hostile environment makes us feel a constant sense of unease.
Images that initially appear innocuous are revealed to be the opposite.
Seemingly arbitrary events like Thanksgiving dinner or making photocopies descend into
chaos and devastation.
Visuals reflect unstable environments and moods.
External conditions like bad weather and political unrest reflect characters’ interior lives.
Jerky camera movements emphasize disorder and disarray.
Characters are fighting against their environments, rather than peacefully existing within them.
There’s an overhead landscape shot that emphasizes the vastness and unknowability
of the setting.
A small source of movement in an otherwise still natural landscape seems to eerily disrupt
the quietude and threaten what is to come.
Mystery surrounds character’s intentions and identities.
The protagonist may have a double in the form of a lookalike or a twin, or their multiplied
or fragmented identity may be represented through the camerawork.
Shots of the characters from behind leave us wondering what they are thinking.
Dramatic irony and major plot twists unsettle us so that we are never quite sure what to
There’s a search for a missing person or for answers.
All of Villeneuve’s characters are looking for someone or for an explanation.
Yet when the protagonist is confronted with the truth or finds the person she has been
searching for, at first she cannot handle it, demonstrating how the truth can shatter
The characters come to understand how little they know about other people.
When they get these answers they’ve wanted, the characters’ first instinct
is often a violent response, to exact revenge or punish themselves.
In Incendies, this continuous cycle of violence is literal as rape and incest produce the
next generation of a family.
But in Arrival, Louise achieves peace because she is able to adjust and open up to a truth
that is at first challenging to accept.
The only semi-happy ending attainable to most of Villeneuve’s characters is to make peace
with the ambiguity of the world.
The question Villeneuve seems to ask is in all of his films is, how do people find meaning
despite the uncertainty they face?
Redemption may come from characters accepting that terrible things happen and the world
is not as we’d ideally like it to be, but we can face this reality and refuse to let
it destroy our own inner strength.
[If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?]
[Maybe I’d say what I feel more often. I don’t know.]]
This post was previously published on Youtube.
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Photo credit: Screenshot from video