*UPDATED* HIGH LIFE | INTERVIEW | Claire Denis Talks To LA Times Entertainment About ‘High Life’, Why She Casted Robert & More

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Her latest, “High Life,” which opens in New York and Los Angeles this week via A24, arrives with higher than usual commercial expectations. Long in the works, the film is a lo-fi sci-fi story that finds Denis working for the first time in the English language. She also has as a star Robert Pattinson, who continues his post-“Twilight” run of working with truly singular filmmakers.

Pattinson plays Monte, a man alone on a spaceship with his daughter Willow. Except they weren’t always alone — Monte was a death-row inmate sent into space with other convicts. The narrative jumps around in time to reveal how the unusual intervention of an on-board scientist (Juliette Binoche) leads to Willow’s birth and sets in motion their future course.

In a recent interview, Pattinson recalled that he was in Louisiana shooting one of the “Twilight” movies when he first discovered Denis, coming across “White Material” on TV late one sleepless night. He immediately emailed his agents about her. Though it took some time, they eventually met in Los Angeles.

“I was expecting a kind of philosophy lecturer or something, I was absolutely terrified for the meeting,” recalled Pattinson. “And then almost immediately, she’s got the most perverse sense of humor and she’s like a little weirdo. She’s really witty and odd. The way I always describe her, she seems like a genuine kind of punk to me. A very sensitive punk.”

Working with Denis, Pattinson appreciated the way in which so many of her films exist as a world unto themselves. “High Life” is brimming with peculiar rules and ideas, motivated by an internal logic that makes its own idiosyncratic sense.

“Reading the script, I was trying to understand how Claire approaches things, even the way the dialogue was written, so that I could understand it in some kind of cerebral way,” said Pattinson. “And then after a while I realized the bits that I liked the most are the bits which you don’t understand at all.”


Denis sat down to discuss “High Life” over a glass of red wine and a cup of hot water. And also just like her movies, there was an air of international adventure, at once sensuous and somewhat austere.


Tell me about casting Robert Pattinson.

Of course everyone thought it should be a science fiction actor, like an action movie actor. And I thought exactly the opposite. And then I met Robert and I must say Robert really wanted to meet me, which was very nice, but I was also a little bit surprised because for me he was a young, iconic actor and I thought it’s exactly the opposite of what I had in mind — sort of 40 years-ish actor, exhausted. And maybe I hesitated a little bit, it took me a few months and then I realized his wanting to be in the film was interesting.

I was not flattered, on the other end I was a little bit afraid because as I said, he is an iconic actor and I wanted a sort of mysterious film, not an iconic film. But then I realized Robert was so ready to go anywhere with me. And then I realized he is a very mysterious young man.


Do you consider the movie sexy?

I think filmmaking is sexy. So every film is sexy for me. If a film is not sexy, it’s a little bit embarrassing, you know? Even if it’s very stern, even if it’s “Mouchette” by Bresson, it is sexy. A film that has no relation to sex, I don’t know what it is.

Given that “High Life” is a science fiction film and stars Robert Pattinson, would you hope that this movie gets you a new audience, a bigger audience? For people who haven’t seen your other films, this might be a way for them to discover your work.

I don’t believe in this kind of thing. I think if I was a kind of director using Robert to get a bigger audience, I would puke on myself. It’s disgusting. I worked with Robert because Robert is great. That’s all. And just this sort of using him to get a greater audience is obscene to me. Really obscene.