Denis Villeneuve interview Dune: Part Two cover

Denis Villeneuve’s quiet revolution in Dune: Part Two

We spoke with the Montreal filmmaker about drawing inspiration from the desert and from a chapter of Quebec history that continues to resonate.

In 1948, during la Grande Noirceur (the Great Darkness), Paul-Émile Borduas published “Refus Global,” an artistic manifesto that is seen as a precursor to modern Quebec and the Quiet Revolution. The text rejected tradition and the religious oppression imposed on the province under the Maurice Duplessis government. Borduas writes, “Our destiny seems harshly fixed,” before offering his vision of a world without religion, without the oppressive fist of power crushing the Québécois spirit. It’s a vision for the world where art will liberate the minds and hearts of an oppressed people. The author said it was born from “an untamed need for liberation.” 

It’s a text that Denis Villeneuve references in his approach to adapting Frank Herbert’s Dune. Delving into the epic science-fiction world torn apart by spice and dogmatic belief, Villeneuve dives deeper into his world, finding threads of connection between his upbringing and his profound connection with the source material. It’s not something that was immediately conscious but became increasingly obvious as he engaged in self-reflection. 

Building off the events of the first Dune film, released in 2021, Dune: Part Two explores the intricacies of faith, politics and prophecy. It’s a mesmerizing and unexpectedly strange film that unravels the mechanics of power. It’s a movie that views the dogmatism of religion and prophecy as tools of control that attempt to derail a legitimate revolutionary movement’s plea for liberation. 

Dune: Part Two Denis Villeneuve interview
Austin Butler with Denis Villeneuve on the set of Dune: Part Two. Photo by Niko Tavernise

Denis Villeneuve sat down with Cult MTL in Montreal to talk about the power of the image and Quebec’s influence on Dune

Justine Smith: In a recent interview, you spoke about the importance of the “image” in your work. In the context of Dune: Part Two, particularly the sequence that unfolds at Giedi Prime, we have a sequence that references the imagery and aesthetics of fascism, inspired, in part, by the works of Leni Riefenstahl. In this sequence, we see the “danger” of the image in action. Do you consider the dangers of aesthetics when making your film?

Denis Villeneuve: Absolutely. Images have incredible power and are capable of incredible manipulation. A powerful image has the ability to change the perception of reality itself. That’s why it’s the filmmaker’s responsibility to use cinema for good. Obviously, propaganda can be incredibly dangerous. 

JS: I’m also interested in the image of the desert in your work. It appears as early as Un 32 août sur terre, your first film, and nearly every single one afterwards. What is it about the desert as a cinematic landscape that fascinates you? 

Denis Villeneuve: I don’t know how interesting this answer will be, but something about the desert invites introspection that forces you to look inward. Even the sound seems to cut off; we hear the sound of our beating heart, our breathing. It’s otherwise silent. It’s a moment of existential questions as we face a mirror to infinity. It’s incredibly powerful, and it touches me profoundly. I find it reassuring as well. It’s a space where we feel a direct connection with death, and it reconnects us to humanity’s place in the natural order. 

And why does it fascinate me so much? I don’t know. I’ve always been fascinated. The first time I was in the desert, I felt at home. The only explanation I can come up with is that I was born on the edge of the St. Lawrence, the plains and the river, and the desert is a lot like the horizon, the sky. It was like discovering reality itself. So there is a connection to the melancholy of solitude, then facing the immensity that reassures me. I love not knowing the answer, but it’s a driving force. 

Dune: Part Two cover Denis Villeneuve interview
Denis Villeneuve on the cover of Cult MTL’s March 2024 issue. Photo by Jack Davison

JS: When you recently presented Dune: Part Two in New York City, you mentioned the Quiet Revolution. Could you elaborate on what you meant and why the Quiet Revolution resonated in your adaptation of Dune?

Denis Villeneuve: I’ll say it resonates because I’m a product of the Quiet Revolution. I was born in 1967, when Quebec had just separated from the church, and the intellectuals of the province were working to separate church and state. Before that, the church had a hold on politics in Quebec that was very unhealthy. Artists and young politicians, with the Réfus Global and what follows, decided to break with the church and create a secular state. That idea helped me in my adaptation of and my approach to the people of this world (in Dune), which is to say, I didn’t want them to be homogenous, that they’d have different sets of beliefs, different processes of thought and that we have a youth movement that puts into question established dogmas that are still being embraced by an older generation. I had the idea that Chani was a reaction against the alienation of this older generation and the religion of her elders and that it’s maybe a little like that generation in Quebec, who were reacting against their parents. 

The thing is, when you’re adapting something, you’re making so many choices. Millions of choices to adapt it for the screen. All those choices reflect who I am. I wondered how this idea came to me; it felt so spontaneous but powerful, and it hit me because it’s part of my roots. ■

Read our review of Dune: Part Two here.

Dune: Part Two opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, March 1. 

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