a unique, spectacular and demanding blockbuster. Pure Nolan..
With the ten feature films that he carries behind him as the maximum responsible – eleven if we count the one at hand – Christopher Nolan has transcended the term “director” to pass on its own merits to be classified as an “author”. An adjective linked, among other things, to repeated patterns, obsessions and signs of identity, with certain variations, throughout his heterogeneous filmography.
This strong, personal and hardly confusing style of his own, has made the British filmmaker a object of loves and hates in equal parts; defending his supporters its space-time philias, its convoluted structures and its peculiarly brainy conception of the blockbuster, and harshly criticizing his detractors what they consider a pretense of much more obvious and superficial complexity than it really is.
With ‘Tenet’, this polarization, far from weakening, is bound to worsen even more; and is that this dazzling new cinematic puzzle that shares much of its genetic code with the outstanding ‘Origin’ is possibly the longest feature length “Christopher Nolan” by Christopher Nolan. For — very — good, or for bad.
The high-concept above all else
One of the great claims of Christopher Nolan’s cinema lies in his unique ability to offer extraordinary premises that test the expectations of the respectable about what they have seen and will see on the big screen; from the most contained, like that of ‘Memento’ to the multilayer dream games of ‘Origin’ or the quantum odysseys of ‘Interstellar’.
That said, if I can safely say that ‘Tenet’ is the most purely Nolan film signed by the director to date, it is thanks to the way in which the conception of his mind-blowing high-concept and its on-screen translation have been taken even further. A maneuver as brilliant as it is risky that has required to subordinate practically everything else to it, becoming the greatest virtue of the film and, at the same time, in its greatest stick in the wheel.
In ‘Tenet’, the concept on which the story revolves is everything, and the main one harmed by it is a narrative that is forced to make certain sacrifices and concessions, going through an excess of oral exposure and a certain lack of character development – interpreted with solvency by the entire cast – to introduce the public as soon as possible to their universe and keep the flame alive until the pyrotechnics explodes in a mid-point to remember.
Until its equator, the film is dominated by a chaotic succession of scenes staged with breakneck cadence, shaping up a conventional Bond-style spy thriller “Megalomaniac and deranged villain even.” Confusion reigns. The over-information bombards the stalls and you find yourself unable to blink as you try to search for answers only to find more unknowns, and digest the bombastic spectacle that is happening before your eyes.
When the performance comes to an end, all the pieces that have been placed on the board seem to fit together perfectly., although a retrospective exercise is necessary, a return in time to the first bars, to be sure. With ‘Tenet’, its strategically placed tracks and script twists – some less shocking than you might expect – Christopher Nolan has made sure to counter with solid arguments all those who accused him of infusing their work with false complexity.
The art of blockbuster
If when it comes to narrative, the unusual high-concept of ‘Tenet’ becomes a double-edged sword, in formal terms it acts as a catalyst for an audiovisual display of the highest level and rarely seen in a movie theater. A veritable time bomb for which – and this may sound like an exaggeration, but from my own experience it is not – not all brains are ready.
The first action scene, once the feature film has fully embraced its premise and put all the meat on the spit, can be somewhat difficult to process. Following the choreography and trying to understand what is happening can be a headache in the first instance, but, Little by little, the chaos is translated into logic, the dynamics make sense and the only thing left to do is open our eyes wide. and letting the jaw drop to a display of muscle to frame.
The, as usual, excellent photography of Hoyte Van Hoytema, and the soundtrack of a Ludwig Göransson whose brutal electronic pounding helps not to miss Hans Zimmer at all, they perfectly wrap those house brand set pieces in which practicality prevails over digital and the increasingly atypical general shot reigns, and culminating in a third act staged in parallel that justifies by itself the experience of enjoying the feature film on the largest possible screen.
As I have previously stated, ‘Tenet’ is the most ambitious, most self-conscious, most thoughtful and, at the same time, most artificial proposal of a Christopher Nolan who has been about to devour himself with a triple somersault with a corkscrew that, without really knowing how, has ended up landing on his feet. A maneuver worthy of the greatest of ovations that, without a doubt, will win whole in a second viewing in which we have all the necessary information in advance for its full enjoyment.
However, one of the characters that appears during the first act, gives the viewer the key to face ‘Tenet’ while addressing its protagonist: “Don’t try to understand it. Feel it.”. And boy does it feel …