To outsiders looking in, succeeding in the world of showbiz is a big guessing game. Read all the industry-rag tea leaves you like, predicting what’ll work and what won’t is still a total crapshoot. Precious few insiders realize, however, that there’s a foolproof formula for developing a smash at the multiplex. It’s simple: Combine two demonstrably wonderful things, and then place them in space. For instance, Stanley Kubrick + Strauss’ tone poems + space = 2001: A Space Odyssey. Alfonso Cuarón + Emmanuel Lubezki + space = Gravity. Hellraiser + super-young Adam Scott + space = Hellraiser: Bloodline, a high point for the franchise. This should really be the go-to move for any struggling film. Instead of insisting on cuts or rewrites when a production falters, just jettison all action into space.
In adherence with this can’t-fail principle, Screen Daily reports today that Claire Denis has tapped Jamaican-British novelist Zadie Smith to pen a script for the director’s first English-language feature. That feature is set in space.
A sci-fi adventure film, the gestating feature is perilously short on plot details, though the item claims that the film takes place in “a future that seems like the present.” It looks like Denis has placed due emphasis on the “sci” portion of “sci-fi,” bringing in astrophysicist Aurélien Barrau as a consultant due to his background in black holes and cosmology. Also joining this ragtag crew of extremely smart people from disparate fields is progressive artist Olafur Eliasson, whose Weather Project turned the inside of the Tate Modern into a living ecosystem. Smith rose to prominence in 2000, when she published her celebrated novel White Teeth, a multifaceted history of shifting racial dynamics in the diverse neighborhoods of London. Her most recent work is NW, a continuation of White Teeth’s restless literary experimentalism and preoccupation with the complex landscape of race. As a Frenchwoman who spent her girlhood witnessing the colonialist racial dynamics firsthand in Burkina Faso, Somalia, Senegal, and Cameroon—a topic that has colored her rich filmography—Denis should make for a kindred spirit with Smith.
Her formidable posse of collaborator aside, Untitled Space Project feat. Zadie Smith represents a brave new risk for Denis. Every one of Denis’ features, up through her latest film Bastards, has run in her native French. Watching an international talent move into the English language is always a thrill, though some efforts work out better than others. With a rich stable of helping hands, this one’s off to a fine start, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed that it’s more Snowpiercer or Stoker, and less The Tourist.