It’s no secret that the films of Denis Villeneuve are visually striking. While his films are all jam-packed with memorable imagery, something that always stands out to me is the auteur’s use of shallow focus. This aesthetic is by no means unique to Villeneuve and just about every film will feature at least a few shots with a shallow depth of field. However, the way in which Villeneuve utilizes shallow focus is rather unique.
Generally, having a shallow depth of field allows a filmmaker to direct our attention—we know what we are supposed to be looking at because only a small section is in focus. But Villeneuve often focuses on something significant (or even insignificant) in the foreground, while something of equal importance unfolds in the blurry background. Sometimes it creates an uncomfortable disconnect—we are unsure of where we should position our eyes. This uncertainty is a crucial element to crafting Villeneuve’s uneasy, chilly tone.
Essay by: Jacob T. Swinney