August 32nd on Earth (1998)

Chanelling the free spirit of the French New Wave, Villeneuve’s first feature is stylistically bold but falls short as a narrative about two ex-lovers who cannot be together.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Review #2,099

Dir. Denis Villeneuve
1998 | Canada | Drama/Romance | 88 mins | 2.35: 1 | French & English
Not rated – likely to be NC16 for some sexual references and coarse language

Cast: Pascale Bussieres, Alexis Martin
Plot: Simone is already rethinking her entire life after surviving a horrible car crash. She quits her job and heads off in search of her closest friend Philippe to ask him to have a child with her. 
Awards: Nom. for Un Certain Regard Award (Cannes)
Source: Alliance Independent Films

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

It is interesting to see where Denis Villeneuve first started as a feature filmmaker before turning into one of Hollywood cinema’s most sought-after top-tier directors with films like Prisoners (2013), Arrival (2016) and Blade Runner 2049 (2017). 

When Simone miraculously survives a horrific car accident, she suffers an existential crisis and decides to find her ex-lover, Philippe, to have a baby with that she can keep for her own. 

Although already romantically attached and having a life of his own, Philippe agrees on one bizarre condition: they copulate in the middle of a nearby desert, in this case, the white expanses of Salt Lake City. 

Pascale Bussieres is fantastic as the sly-looking Simone, and it is her strong screen chemistry with the slightly goofy Alexis Martin, who plays Philippe, that helps audiences course their way through a narrative that appears appealing but ultimately falls short. 

In terms of technique and film language, Villeneuve isn’t bereft of ideas as he channels the free spirit of the French New Wave with jump cuts, restless camerawork and two lead characters trying to find out what they want in each other.  There’s even a poster of BreathlessJean Seberg in Philippe’s room. 

Villeneuve’s use of Robert Charlebois’ ‘Tout ecartille’ as a recurring song is inspired, giving the film some energy when it feels like it may fall flat. 

A half-decent first feature, August 32nd on Earth should pique the curiosity of Villeneuve completists, but it is difficult to pinpoint what the director is trying to achieve here when his characters would make strange decisions that overstretch what little plot there is by its denouement.     

Grade: B-



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