High Life


For its first half or so, High Life, the English-language debut by French auteur Claire Denis, is an assured piece of enigmatic non-linear storytelling. It stars Robert Pattinson as Monte, a taciturn father raising his baby daughter in testing circumstances – the pair are the sole inhabitants of a dilapidated spaceship hurtling towards a black hole. Denis is in no rush to explain how they ended up in this position, but through flashbacks we learn that Monte was once accompanied on the vessel by a rag-tag crew of criminals, led by the eccentric Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche), who harbours an all-consuming obsession with artificial insemination. For a while, the film strikes a deft balance between moody introspection and genre thrills, as Denis weaves a compelling tale with minimal exposition. And a sequence in which Binoche pleasures herself in a retro-futuristic “fuckbox” is glorious, charging subsequent scenes with a palpable sense of yearning. But ultimately, High Life is too beholden to the sci-fi classics that inspired it. With Earth-set vignettes that look like deleted scenes from Tarkovsky’s Stalker, and a climax that’s heavily indebted to Kubrick’s 2001, it fails to establish a visual language of its own, and winds up feeling like less than the sum of its parts.

High Life | Directed by Claire Denis (France, Germany, UK, Poland, US 2018) with Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche. Starts May 30.

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