I enjoyed this movie, and was tremendously moved by the ending, even though, having read the novella, I knew what was coming.
The story is simple enough — a dozen alien space ships suddenly appear above the earth. Why are they here? Various governments put together teams of specialists, from linguists to mathematicians, to attempt to communicate. Stuff happens.
Amy Adams, as the master linguist, gives a wonderful performance. It didn’t attract Oscar attention — Oscars tend to go to actors who play damaged people who undergo dramatic transformation. Here, most of Adams’ character transformation takes place in her head. But whenever she’s on screen, you can’t take your eyes off her.
Where the film really shines, though, is in its astonishing visual imagery. It’s not merely pretty — although there are plenty of dramatic vistas. Nor is it merely a matter of special effects — although they way they depict the alien gravity field is remarkable. It is a tour-de-force of visual imagination — from the odd-shaped “how can that possibly exist” alien spacecraft, to the weirdly beautiful pictograms, even to the fractal earrings your eye barely register. I guess it’s not that surprising that the director is French, a country whose best art has always been visual (Not all cultural stereotypes are false.)