Tag Archives: Denis Villeneuve

176. ENEMY (2013)

“Chaos is order yet undeciphered.”–epigraph to Enemy

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING: , Mélanie Laurent, 

PLOT: Adam, a professor of history, catches sight of a movie extra playing a bellhop who appears to be his exact double, and becomes obsessed with tracking him down. When they eventually meet they discover that Anthony, the actor, is Adam’s exact physical match, but has a nearly opposite personality, slick and scheming where Adam is passive and meek. Anthony, who has a rocky relationship with pregnant wife due to her accusations of infidelity, is drawn to Adam’s girlfriend; and though the professor wants to withdraw from their association, the actor’s machinations intertwine the two men’s lives.

Still from Enemy (2013)BACKGROUND:

  • Enemy is based on the novel “O Homem Duplicado” (literally “The Duplicated Man,” although the English translation was titled “The Double“) by the Portuguese Nobel laureate José Saramago. The novel has a very different, though equally chilling, ending than the film.
  • Director Denis Villeneuve and star Jake Gyllenhaal made Enemy back-to-back with the higher-profile, reality-based thriller Prisoners (2013). Enemy was made first but released second.
  • Villeneuve said that the plan to do the adaptation with Gyllenhaal came after a night of drinking in which the actor told the director he wanted to do the movie but needed to “dream” about it first.
  • Villeneuve said he wanted to make Enemy because he wanted to do something “free” in light of his anxieties over working under the constraints he feared would be imposed by a Hollywood studio on the upcoming Prisoners.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Enemy is one of a few movies whose most unforgettable image can’t be mentioned without entering the territory where spoilers dwell. Fortunately, there are plenty of runner-ups to chose from. With arachnid imagery dominating the hallucinatory scenes, it’s easy to pick the picture of a giant, spindly-legged spider looming over the smoggy streets of Toronto as the film’s iconic image. The movie’s TIFF poster took that precise route.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: As tightly controlled as a dictatorship and as enigmatic as a tarantula on a gold serving platter, the inscrutable Enemy evokes a panicky existential dread in the tradition of . The final scene will provoke debate for as long as people watch weird movies.


Original trailer for Enemy

COMMENTS: Enemy begins with the epigram “chaos is order yet undeciphered,” and I admit to having yet to decipher the twisty web of chaos the Continue reading 176. ENEMY (2013)

LIST CANDIDATE: ENEMY (2013)

Enemy has been officially promoted to the List of the 366 Best Weird Movies. This initial review is left here for archival purposes. Please read the official Certified Weird entry and post any comments there.

Recommended

DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING, Mélanie Laurent, 

PLOT: A history professor becomes obsessed with tracking down a man who appears to be his exact double.

Still from Enemy (2013)
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: We have an unofficial rule that we won’t add a movie to the List until it’s come out on DVD, so we can study its nuances closely. You shouldn’t wait that long, however. If you love cinematic weirdness, you owe it to yourself to get out to the theater and catch Enemy now.

COMMENTS: Enemy begins with the epigram “chaos is order yet undeciphered…,” and I admit to having yet to decipher the twisty web of chaos the movie spins. Beginning with a fractured montage depicting one of those impossibly elegant and depraved invitation-only live sex shows that only exist in the movies, Enemy emerges from its abstract opening to focus on Adam, a melancholy history professor currently lecturing on the methods dictatorships use to keep their citizens in the dark about how they are being controlled. Adam’s life consists of little more than work and joyless sex with his girlfriend until one day, almost on a whim, he watches a movie and catches a glimpse of an extra who looks exactly like him. While most of us would find such a discovery “neat” and invite our friends over to the screen confirm the resemblance, Adam’s reaction is different: immediate uncomprehending horror, followed by an obsessive need to track his double down. Even the way we are shown Adam’s discovery is unnatural; we watch as what appears to be a lighthearted costume drama playing out on his laptop screen, except that there is no sound, only the ominous strings of the film’s thick (and excellent) neoclassical score. Villeneuve’s direction pumps out a subtle, constant stream of anxiety: the characters’ overly alarmed reactions to everyday events, throwaway lines of dialogue suggesting layers of unexplored subtexts, the cold and lonely modern apartments both Adam and his doppelganger glide through like ghosts, the jaundiced pallor of the movie’s interiors. But it’s not all endless cinemaitc restraint, as some startling arachnid imagery and a shot of an upside-down woman with an insect head attest. Altering his bearing to portray either the sensitive Adam or the brash Anthony, Gyllenhaal gives the best performance alongside himself since Nic Cage in Adaptation. From a technical standpoint his acting is sure to impress even causality snobs who scoff at Enemy‘s obscure logic. I had an issue with the ending—not with its content, but with its abruptness—but the movie’s unexpected final shot will provide enough speculative tinder to fuel a small industry of interpreters for years. Villeneuve shows an ability to evoke a panicky existential dread that rivals and fellow Canadian , while Enemy‘s concern with the frailty of identity places it somewhere on the venerable Persona spectrum.

After helming the Certified Weird Maelstrom (a drama narrated by a fish) and the grotesque gluttony short Next Floor, Denis Villeneuve’s career seemed headed for a more conventional turn after he scored more populist successes with the drama Incendies (2010) and the thriller Prisoners (2013). We’re happy to see he retains his urge toward the strange. And while Isabella Rossellini’s imprimatur always adds weird credibility to any film she appears in, we’re almost as thrilled by Sarah Gadon’s presence. Her preference for roles in oddball movies continues to impress—if she keeps this string up, she could become the next generation’s Isabella.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Gyllenhaal is impressive in a weirdly original thriller from Villeneuve that trips over its many legs at the finish.”–Jeff Baker, The Oregonian (contemporaneous)

87. MAELSTROM (2000)

“Maelstrom, from my humble point of view, was inspired as follows: we all have an amazing built-in system of personal and social defense: we interpret the world and construct for ourselves an image of it, which comforts us and eases our conscience, and we do this instinctively.  For me, Maelstrom is a playful call to be responsible and to be careful.  Some of my friends found this definition childish and tried to convince me that Maelstrom was, instead, a dark and serious drama about a woman emerging from chaos and mythomania.  Others consider it a luminous noir fable of a voyage to the limits of reality and myth.  That’s ridiculous.  Don’t believe a word they say.”–Denis Villeneuve, Director’s Note to Maelstrom

DIRECTED BY: Denis Villeneuve

FEATURING: Marie-Josée Croze, Jean-Nicolas Verreault, Pierre Lebeau (voice)

PLOT: A fish about to be chopped up and made into seafood explains that, with his last breaths, he would like to tell a “pretty story” about a young woman “on a long voyage toward reality.”  We then meet Bibi, undergoing an abortion; later that day, she will lose her position in the family business, then leave the scene of the accident after striking a pedestrian while driving drunk.  In the guilt-ridden weeks that follow, she tracks down the man she struck to find out who he was and what happened to him.

Still from Maelstrom (2000)

BACKGROUND:

  • Maelstrom swept the 2001 Genies (the Canadian equivalent of the Academy Awards), winning the Best Picture, Director, Lead Actress, Screenplay, and Cinematography awards.  Other than film festival appearances, the movie received little distribution outside of Canada. A DVD was released in 2003 with little fanfare, and Maelstrom has been largely forgotten since.
  • Set in Montreal, Maelstrom was filmed in French, but a small portion of the dialogue is in untranslated Norwegian, as is the opening epigraph.
  • Maelstrom was included in film critic Richard Crouse’s book “The 100 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen” (coincidentally, this makes the eighth of the titles Crouse chose that we’ve independently reviewed).
  • In 2010 Denis Villeneuve scored an international arthouse hit with the (not weird) Incendies, a story about twins traveling to the Middle East to uncover a family secret, which was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar.

INDELIBLE IMAGE:  The grotesque, philosophical fish who croaks out the tale between gasps while waiting for the fishmonger (sharpening his blade on a stone and looking like an executioner) to finish him off.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD:  The story is narrated by a dying fish.  If you need more than that, there’s the confusing, impressionistic, nonlinear timeline (that replays certain scenes); some incredible plot and thematic coincidences; and the stylishly stoned scenes of Bibi drowning her woes in booze and pills. But I keep coming back to the fact that the story is narrated by a (surprisingly reflective) dying fish. Talk about cod philosophy!


Trailer for Maesltrom

COMMENTS: “You’ll get nightmares from eating stale octopus,” Bibi’s friend warns her Continue reading 87. MAELSTROM (2000)