Arrival : Villeneuve at the top of his art

“If aliens ever visit us, I think the outcome would be much as when Christopher Columbus first landed in America, which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans.” — Stephen Hawking

Mix the universe of Spielberg and Terrence Malick. Add a personnal story, the kind of stories Nolan could give us, and you get Arrival, the lest movie of Denis Villeneuve.

We are not here in front of the kind of alien story which has been seen over and over again. No, here things are completely different. So yes, the plot can seem ordinaire, aliens debarking on earth, humans trying to discover why, some of them threw language, the others threw guns. But Villeneuve proposes us here his vision of a first contact with an extra-terrestrial civilisation.

An obstinate woman struggling with an obtuse male hierarchy

Here is the synopsis: twelve monoliths stand, motionless, silently, and levitating, in twelve different spots of the Glob. Near the one located in Montana, a linguist (Amy Adams) and a physicist (Jeremy Renner) are sent in a military station in order to contact the aliens, kind of benevolent Cthulhu with a particularly successful design, and to decipher their language , expressed in the form of circular ink jets.

Arrival presents the same dramatic situation as Sicario, Villeneuve’s previous feature: an obstinate woman, struggling with an obtuse masculine hierarchy, trying to prevent from a irresistible outburst of violence. However, Arrival is moderate and less action packed, less thundering than the filmmaker’s habit, entirely seen from the fascinated eyes of its heroine, which he managed to make ours.

Villeneuve manages to give substance to rather abstract reflections

Amy Adams, whose compassed game, sometimes, wearied us, is here impeccable. Between François Truffaut in Close Encounters of the third kind and Jodie Foster in Contact, she draws a line of intelligence to which the staging of Villeneuve, sober and elegant, responds perfectly. The film maker, exalted rather than constrained by the weakness of his budget (50 million, a trifling budget for such a beautiful Science Fiction movie) succeeds in giving form to some rather abstract reflexions.

If Arrival is firstly a film about language, it also reveals, in a last stunning act — though a little sloppy — a meditation on time and its irreversibility. What man, constrained by his structure of thought and his linear experience of time, cannot do, the cinema is perfectly capable of. The melodramatic slope of Arrival than assumes an unexpected magnitude. The film contrasts the innocence if the first encounter with the tragic experience of humanity (born, lie, die), before uniting them in a circular movement which brings everything together in a unique impulse. The history of the world repeats itself, constantly. From a discourse a priori of a mad naivete, terribly sentimental, Villeneuve draws a disturbing fable of disarming simplicity.

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