Denis Villeneuve

On this date in 1967, Canadian filmmaker Denis Villeneuve was born in Bécancour, Quebec, to homemaker Nicole (Demers) and Jean Villeneuve, a civil law notary. He made short films while attending a Catholic high school and studied science at a post-secondary school before enrolling in the cinema program at the University of Quebec in Montreal.

He made his directorial debut with “August 32nd on Earth” (1998), which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. Villeneuve was disappointed with it and its follow-up “Maelström” (2000) and took a long sabbatical as a stay-at-home dad. He vowed to return “when I was ready to make a film I could be proud of.” (Internet Movie Database, Nov. 17, 2021)

His controversial but critically acclaimed black-and-white film “Polytechnique” (2009) about the shootings at the University of Montreal in 1989 received numerous honors. It reenacted events of the gun murders of 14 young women and the wounding of several others. “Incendies” (2010) garnered critical acclaim when it premiered at the Venice and Toronto film festivals, was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and was chosen by The New York Times as one of the top 10 best films of 2010.

Villeneuve followed with the crime thriller “Prisoners” starring Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal. It was nominated for a 2014 Best Cinematography Oscar. He won Best Director for “Enemy,” also in 2014, at the Canadian Screen Awards. “Sicario” (2015) went on to gross nearly $80 million worldwide.

“Arrival” (2016), starring Amy Adams, was his sixth film to focus on a female character and garnered eight Oscar nominations, including Best Director. Villeneuve built and grew his career making films about, and led by, women, a reviewer wrote. “For me, masculinity is about control, and femininity is more of an embrace, the art of listening,” Villeneuve said. (New York Times, Nov. 10, 2016)

“Blade Runner 2049” (2017), the sequel to Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (1982), did less well at the box office than it did with critics. (In a 2015 IndieWire interview, Villeneuve said ” ‘Blade Runner’ is almost a religion for me.”) He was named Director of the Decade by the Hollywood Critics Association in 2019.

His movie “Dune,” based on Frank Herbert’s novel, premiered in 2021 at the Venice Film Festival. He told Esquire magazine that “Nature is the god in ‘Dune’ and biology is the religion.” Villeneuve: “One of the big qualities of ‘Dune’ is the idea that I can approach the dangerous cocktail of religion being mixed with politics into sci-fi so I don’t offend anyone. That’s the advantage to science fiction; you can approach very hardcore subjects.” (Houston Chronicle, Oct. 20, 2021)

Villeneuve is married to Tanya Lapointe, a former journalist he met while she was working on “Arrival” as a production assistant. He has three children from a previous relationship. Warner Bros. announced in late 2021 that “Dune: Part Two” was scheduled for an October 2023 release.

PHOTO: Villeneuve at the “Prisoners” premiere in 2013 in Beverly Hills, Calif.; photo by s_bukley/Shutterstock.com

Freedom From Religion Foundation