Once at school, Villeneuve was tapped on the shoulder. “See that guy over there?” another student informed him. “He’s as angry as you are. Next summer, he wants to do Star Wars in his basement. So I think you should get to know him. Pretty soon he became the best friend of a guy named Nicholas Kadima. While other boys their age smoked pot and discovered girls and football, Villeneuve and Kadima were “ignorant.” We were like movie monks. ” They spent their nights watching Eisenstein and Godard, obsessed with Spielberg, Ridley Scott and Kubrick. They weren’t filmmaking (“We were too lazy for that”), but they wrote scripts, drew storyboards – Villeneuve has something else that Kadima drew for Dune – and they dreamed.
He told me that Villeneuve needed to shoot a film in real desert landscapes “for my peace of mind.”
“It was intense,” Villeneuve recalled fondly. “It was kind of clean and beautiful in a way.” Once you pick up your camera, you learn humility. “But up to this point, you think you’re the next Kubrick.” He told me that he and Kadima had stopped going to church, hoping that they would be excommunicated, but “ready to give our blood to the gods of cinema, like Coppola, like Spielberg, Scorsese.” (He admitted that nowadays, when he comes across some of his idols, he is delighted. He becomes a child again, he explained. “Sometimes I can start crying. When I first met Spielberg, I cried – I mean , not in front of him, ”he quickly adds.“ But I was crying.)
He was expected to become a biologist, but decided to pursue his interest in cinema. “There was something to get rid of,” he said, “and I would have been depressed if it hadn’t gotten out, it’s true.” After studying communications and cinema at the University of Quebec in Montreal and winning a Radio-Canada film production competition, Villeneuve began working in what he describes as a “wonderful laboratory” of Quebec’s documentary tradition. I asked him how it felt when he moved away from his cultural and artistic roots? “This is a big wound,” he said seriously. “I feel a crack in myself.” But he felt he had to leave. Until the 1960s, filmmaking in Canada was focused on the documentary form, and fiction was relatively unknown, he said. “At some point, I realized that – and this is very arrogant, – he admitted, – that they would not teach me anything here, I had to go outside.”
Today, he said, living in Montreal but working in Hollywood, he is asked almost daily, “So Denis? When are you coming back here to shoot a movie? We are looking forward to the film in French. ” But, he said, “the thing is, I feel at home.” In his youth, he was touched by American films, so at school he was nicknamed Spielberg. Only later did he become interested in European cinema. (Villeneuve discovered the French new wave as a teenager when he saw François Truffaut in Spielberg’s film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.) In his first feature film, he confessed: “I tried to be closer to my roots. My influence was more European. But at some point I said: stop this shit! I’m not like that! And when I realized that, it was such a great freedom. ” The moment he realized he was an American filmmaker at heart “was the beginning of pure happiness. And this is where I started to enjoy cinema. I think I started making the best films. I think that’s where I became a real director. ”
“I shouldn’t be afraid. Fear is a mind killer ”is the most famous line in“ Dune ”. He appears on countless motivational posters, tattoo artists have painted him in countless hands. It is part of the litany of the Bene Gesserit Order. Since fear destroys thought, the litany says, it must be dealt with and discarded. But for Villeneuil, fear is a generative emotion, and cinema is what he used and continues to use to defeat it. He sees cinema – not only watching films, but the very process of making them – as a force that pushes him out of the shell, brings him into contact with other people. He told me that without a movie, he could easily fall into a hole with a locked door, fearing the whole world. “It brings me comfort,” he said. His brow furrowed. “Consolation, or … I don’t know which word is correct.” He looked worried. “Consolation? What exactly does consolation mean?” it’s on his computer. Of course it was the right word.
Risk and danger to him are an integral part of creation. One of his favorite films is a 1956 documentary entitled Mister Picasso by French director Henri-Georges Clouzot. “It was like a bomb in my soul,” he told me. In it, a shirtless Picasso, then in his 70s, draws on a screen shot from behind, so that the artist is invisible and all you can see is the work arising, line by line, stroke by stroke. “He can draw and then add something, and then add something and add something, and then he says,“ This is a piece [expletive] – and we talk about three weeks of work – and then he destroys it and does it again 20 times. ” Seeing this deeply moved him. “Because it shows that creativity is an act of vulnerability when your path to success is narrow and you have to allow yourself to experiment.”