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‘High Life’ Director Claire Denis Explains Why Novelist Zadie Smith Departed Film: ‘There Was Not a Word We Could Share’

The two creators couldn't even agree on a title for her Robert Pattinson-starring feature, Denis explained at a recent NYFF press conference.

“High Life”

A24

Editor’s note: This post contains some spoilers for “High Life.”

When Claire Denis’ first English-language feature, the space-set thriller “High Life,” was initially announced in June of 2015, the project boasted an extra dose of behind-the-camera talent, as lauded British novelist Zadie Smith was set to take on scripting duties alongside her husband Nick Laird. While Denis’ film went on to add a number of other exciting names, including stars Robert Pattinson and Juliette Binoche, Smith ultimately left the film, with Laird staying on as script consultant.

Vulture reports that at a Tuesday press conference following a NYFF screening of the film, Denis chalked up the break to creative differences. And while that’s an oft-used excuse, it seems that this time, it’s the truth.

“I met Zadie in London with a producer. I met her with her husband, because she wanted to share the work with Nick Laird, her husband,” Denis said when asked about the dissolution of the partnership. “She was beautiful and half from the Caribbean, and I thought yes! I was impressed by that.”

And yet when Denis started to work with Smith and Laird, she realized that the trio’s interests diverged in a number of uncomfortable ways. “We were so opposed on every idea,” said Denis about Smith. “There was not a word we could share.” Denis said the novelist even wanted to change the film’s title to “A New Life.”

While that sounds like a small detail, it seems to speak to bigger disagreements within the failed partnership, as Denis also noted that Smith was intent on having the film’s central characters return to Earth after being tricked into joining an ill-fated space mission. “Nothing against her, but she wanted the people of the ship to — she wanted them to return to Earth,” the filmmaker said. “‘Going home,’ she kept telling me. I said, ‘What the fuck do you mean, going home?’ There is no one alive there, you know?”

She added, “I really tried, honestly tried. But sometimes people, they have different perceptions of the world. And I’ve read her books, in French, in English. And I know why. We are on the same planet, but not living the same life, for sure.”

Official scripting credits for the film are attributed to Denis, her long-time collaborator Jean-Pol Fargeau, and Geoff Cox.

A24 will release “High Life” in 2019.

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