One of the most esteemed filmmakers to emerge from France in recent years is Claire Denis. Her films have introduced the world to a whole new way of storytelling. She is known for her distinctive visual style and her ability to consistently create films that are both thought-provoking and entertaining.
Born in Paris in 1967, Denis began her filmmaking career at the age of 23. She made her directorial debut with the black comedy-drama Romance in 1993. She followed this up with a string of notable films, including the psychological thriller Enemy at the Door which won the Grand Prix du Jury at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival. Her latest film is High Life, a lushly-forested action-adventure set in the 1980s about a young woman who sets out to save her kidnapped baby brother.
A Director Of Distraction
Denis’s films tend to be character-driven and she often focuses on the characters’ relationships with one another. This is clear from her debut feature, where we are immediately thrown into the thick of the action with an opening scene of a car chase. The scene is highly stylized and almost comically over-the-top, as we quickly discover that the lead character Romano is an aspiring comic book artist. We also get to see some exceptional stunt driving, as well as an amusing scene where Romano tries to teach a group of inept park security guards a thing or two about being in a car chase. During the course of the narrative, Romano goes on multiple dates with the love interest Marianne, a scene which is rich in comic potential.
Movies like this one give rise to the question: is Claire Denis a feminist filmmaker? It would be best not to answer in the affirmative, but then again, her films often ask probing questions about gender identity and expectations.
An Enriching Mix Of Genres
The great thing about Denis’s films is their various genres. If you’re looking to expand your horizons, she’s the perfect director for the job. Her work crosses over into multiple storytelling mediums, including the widely-acclaimed sci-fi thriller Asterix & the Obelisk. This 2012 film stars Bill Murray, John Goodman, and Uma Thurman. The story follows an aging comic book writer who is given hallucinogens by a young man he meets at a bar. In another film, Obelisk, an enslaved diver finds himself pitted against an evil genius in a contest to solve a series of riddles. The setting is post-apocalyptic, with a dark, dystopian future for the characters. It won the Golden Lion at the 2013 Venice Film Festival.
Often compared to Stanley Kubrick and David Cronenberg, Denis also falls under the auspices of the fantastic auteur Peter Bogdanovich. When asked about his own filmography, Denis states that she admires the work of all of these directors, particularly the masterful skills of Kubrick and Cronenberg. We can see why. Their influence is evident in everything from the lighting and composition of their shots, to the way their storylines play out. Denis also cites the work of Joss Whedon and Quentin Tarantulinu as inspirations. She has said that she sees herself as part of a new generation of French directors who are determined to change the face of cinema.
A Director Whose Career Isn’t Complete
Denis is an immensely influential figure in world cinema. She’s one of the few directors who has been able to consistently impress aficionados and novices alike through her work. High Lifes an example of her ability to consistently entertain and enlighten. A more recent example is the German version of Black Panther, called Black Panther: A Love Story. This is certainly not your ordinary superhero movie, as it tells the tale of a black man who becomes king of Wakanda and how he rediscovers his identity. This is an aspect of the film that was mostly cut from the U.S. release, but it is present in all versions.
Denis has also been able to transition successfully from film to television. Her 2010 miniseries, The Lady, is an adaptation of Alexandre-Dumas’s 1874 novella. The drama was commissioned by Canal Plus and tells the story of an aging composer who is obsessed with the image of a beautiful woman he sees in a mirror. The Lady stars Oscar-winner Hilary Swank and was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award. It was Swank’s first appearance on the big screen in eight years and her last film role before her retirement. She died in 2011 at the age of 57.
Claire Denis: An Impressive Filmography
Here’s a complete filmography of Claire Denis, in order of release date.