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This is the busiest fall of director Denis Villeneuve‘s life. He is finishing Story of Your Life (based on a short story by sci-fi writer Ted Chiang, doing press on Sicario and prepping for the sequel to Blade Runner.ROBYN BECK/AFP / Getty Images

Film festivals are notoriously tiring affairs, but Denis Villeneuve's slow gait this morning isn't due just to the fact that he was out late basking in the adoration for his blistering Mexican drug cartel thriller, Sicario, which has lasted from its world premiere at Cannes in May to its red carpet reception at TIFF. "I'm slowly waking up," he explains, with a shy smile. "After Sicario, I did another movie. I shot, and just wrapped a few days ago. So, I'm coming here with a low energy level."

His long days aren't going to end any time soon, though. "This is the busiest fall of my life," he nods. "I'm finishing Story of Your Life (based on a short story by sci-fi writer Ted Chiang), doing press on Sicario and we are in slow prep for [the sequel to] Blade Runner. So, it's, like, intense. A lot of work. But I'm going to take a good break in 2018."

At least nowadays he gets to work at home in Montreal. After helming Incendies, a powerful Middle East-set drama that won eight Genie Awards and was nominated for the 2011 best foreign-language Oscar, Villeneuve got pulled away: first to Toronto, to make his English-language feature debut with the head-swirling Enemy; then to Hollywood for the gut-wrenching drama Prisoners.

Now, he says with a chuckle, "I'm trying to bring Hollywood to my home instead of going there. Prisoners was a movie that was all made in the United States. Sicario was shot in the United States and all the [post-production] was done in Montreal. And Story of Your Life is entirely, entirely 100-per-cent done in Canada. We shot in Montreal, and the post and the [visual effects] will be made in Montreal. We have everything we need there."

"It's important for me to stay in my roots."

It's hard, though, to know exactly what that means. Villeneuve, 47, was born in the Quebec village of Gentilly, about half an hour outside of Trois-Rivieres – his accent is still coureur-de-bois thick – and his early career was right out of the French-Canadian textbook: TV work for Radio-Canada, a National Film Board experimental short, a couple of prize-winning off-kilter dramas. Still, he says, "I never felt I was belonging to any family of filmmaker."

Sicario, he suggests, is "an American movie with a Montreal sensibility. Because it's an American subject, made with American production, but being French-Canadian – or Canadian – gave me a nice critical distance with American reality. I'm not saying that American filmmakers don't have that distance, I'm saying, from my perspective I know that I sometimes make shots or approach things from a different way because of where I come from."

The film, a pulse-pounder from its opening frames, follows a by-the-book FBI kidnapping specialist (Emily Blunt) who is assigned to a small unit in sometimes violent, and almost always ethically grey, pursuit of a Mexican drug kingpin. (Non-spoiler alert: There are no good guys.) It is at least the third film of Villeneuve's, after Incendies and Prisoners, to force the audience into confronting the ugliness of revenge.

"There's a cult of revenge in the cinema that suggests that revenge is a very – how do we say that in English? – is enjoyable, that there is a kind of orgasmal – the idea that if you will inflict the same pain to the other, that you will satisfy yourself," he suggests. "And the audience loves revenge movies. Me, I'm trying to approach it to find how it's useless, how you hurt yourself. It's an exploration that I'm doing about cycles of violence, I will say. Yeah."

During TIFF, the cast of Sicario (which also includes Benicio del Toro and Josh Brolin) were frequently called upon to discuss the United States' war on drugs and Mexican cartels. "I don't think the movie's about that," says Villeneuve. "It could have been set in the Middle East. That is important to say, because if people are going to see the movie to try to learn something new about the drug cartel, they will be very disappointed. We learn nothing new about that world. It's not Traffic, it's not Soderbergh, it's very different.

"But I should say that, I felt in the past that what was happening in Mexico, because it's happening on the other side of that border there is [a sense that] what happens to poor people doesn't interest us, and I'm feeling we need to talk more about that problem, because it's our problem as well, we are part of the problem. And the corruption of institutions is not something we are protected [from]. We are not better than them, we can fall into that trap, too. And on a smaller level, what's happened in Quebec and Montreal, that level of corruption, you know, it's a small level, we know at home it's more like, cute – but we are not [immune]. We must be aware. Our institutions are beautiful, but they can be fragile, too. And there's a kind of cynicism about politics right now that is not good."

Which brings us back to Canada. Though Villeneuve is currently – and for the foreseeable future – committed to a string of large U.S. blockbusters, he remains a vocal advocate for a domestic feature film industry.

"One of the things that makes the United States so strong is they have a powerful culture. I feel that it's the same for Canada: If we want to evolve as a society, we have to be able to express ourselves about how we see the world, and what we want to do with that world. And art is a way of dreaming." He pauses and looks up – he is sometimes insecure about his speech. "Does it make sense in English?

Assured it does, he continues. When he was making films in Quebec, he explains, he always felt as if he had to beg, borrow and steal. "But when you do movies in the United States, you feel the respect of this industry, how people take that industry very seriously. And it's important for them – this art form is very, very important, and even in the general public they respect that. That respect really moves me – the feeling that what you're doing is part of the society."

Which is one reason he is excited about directing the Blade Runner sequel. He saw the original film when it first came out in 1982, "on a big screen in small-town Quebec," when he was not yet 15 years old.

"It was, like, an aesthetic shock for me, a big, big one. I felt it was one of the first movies I was seeing that was, like, sci-fi for adults. The level of sophistication – to see that cross-mix of genre, of film noir and detective movie, mixed with the sci-fi, it was the first time I experienced that. I remember, it really blew my mind."

Is he anxious about trying to meet the expectations of the film's fans?

"There is a trepidation for every movie I'm making," he replies. "But of course I'm aware that every fan of Blade Runner will walk into the theatre with a baseball bat. I understand that, because I would do the same. I totally respect that attitude. It's part of the game. But it's just a universe that I'm loving so much that it was not possible to say no. And also, I must say, the script is very powerful. It's a project that …" He pauses once more, considers his words.

"It's too big for me to say no to that. I'm dreaming to do that kind of movie since I was 12 years old."

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