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High Life stars Robert Pattinson.
High Life stars Robert Pattinson.
A24

L.A. Weekly Movie Picks: Father-Daughter Drama Humanizes High Life

Welcome to L.A. Weekly's Movie Guide, your look at the hottest films in Los Angeles theaters this week — from indie art-house gems and classics to popcorn-perfect blockbusters and new movies garnering buzz. Check here every week before you make your big-screen plans.

Limited/art-house

Friday, April 5

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High Life is a science fiction film with a strange pedigree. Claire Denis, a key architect of modern French cinema, had been kicking around the idea for more than a decade. The film begins arrestingly with a scene in which an astronaut (Robert Pattinson) repairs the exterior of a spacecraft. We soon find out that he has survived a doomed mission, along with his infant daughter. (From her crib, she watches Edward S. Curtis' In the Land of the War Canoes on a TV that projects random broadcasts from Earth.) By reporting to the ship's command center, the space traveler, whom we come to know as Monte, gains life support in 24-hour increments.

In extended flashbacks, we learn what happened to the rest of the crew. The roughly half-dozen occupants are part of a government experiment — all are condemned criminals who escaped death row by volunteering to explore a distant black hole. The self-appointed leader of the expedition is Dr. Dibs (Juliette Binoche), who conducts fertility experiments on the rest of the group while keeping them under constant medication.

Other members of the crew include Tcherny (Andre Benjamin, better known as American rap artist Andre 3000), Boyse (Mia Goth), Chandra (Lars Eidinger), Nansen (Agata Buzek) and Ettore (Ewan Mitchell). Soon, repressed sexual desire and sheer boredom give way to violence and self-destruction.

Denis is a world-class filmmaker with at least one undisputed masterpiece to her credit (the irreducibly strange Beau Travail from 1999). Her vision of humanity here is despairing but also clichéd. This is her first film in English, and one wonders whether parts of the screenplay, authored by Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau and Geoff Cox, with additional work by Nick Laird, got lost in translation. (Sample dialogue: "It stinks. The usual stench. It gets me hard.") What saves the film from utter nihilism is the hope embedded in some gravely beautiful images of father and daughter bound together as they traverse the unknown and eventually enter the void. ArcLight, 6360 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; Fri.-Sun., April 5-7, various showtimes; $16-$18; (323) 615-2550, arclightcinemas.com.

Also opening Friday, April 5: Best of Enemies; Billboard; The Chaperone; Division 19; The Haunting of Sharon Tate; Peterloo; Pet Sematary; The Public; Shazam!; Storm Boy; Super 30; Teen Spirit; The Wind

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