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🎬 #15 Double Vision, Denis Villenueve
To be honest I can’t believe it’s taken this long to write about a film directed by Denis Villenueve. Potentially my favourite filmmaker - he’s knocked out film after film with astonishing artistic integrity and vision. And now having seen him speak about his career in film so far - he’s not only eloquent about his process but also incredibly humble and charming - so this issue is dedicated to not just one but two of his films to date. These films are what he might consider the true beginning of his filmmaking career. Each illuminating his searing portrayal of the dark secrets humans usually fight to contain - and the tension and conflict they create in the characters he brings to life on the big screen.
Happy choosing, happy viewing,
FILM ONE: INCENDIES
2010 Dir Denis Villeneuve
Incendies was nominated for the Best Foreign Language film Oscar the year it was released - and stormed a lot of other award ceremonies around the world. Even though Denis made two feature films before this - this was the one that brought him to the world stage. This is the real beginning of the filmmaker we now know today - this is the film that helped him establish his own creative voice, that he admitted he had really been searching for.
The first time I watched this film was very late at night. Despite how late it was, I was immediately hooked from the first images - accompanied by the opening notes of ‘You and Whose Army’ by Radiohead. This was a film I was going to love and I knew it from the opening seconds. My one piece of advice though is to maybe not watch it that late at night.
It’s a very ‘heavy’ film - that weighs on you, in a good way. It’s like a modern Greek Tragedy - a haunting film that is really meant to be watched and experienced. This is not a film to be half-paid attention to, not that any film really is. It’s an engulfing vision of twins setting out on a quest to find their brother, who they never knew existed, and their father, who they thought was long dead. The sudden knowledge is revealed by their mother’s will, after her sudden passing, and her desire to deliver to each of them, a letter.
Denis is a master at giving a film time to breathe. Every single frame is let to sit with us, revealing much more than a dozen edits could ever do. The themes of long held secrets and duplicity - recurring in the oppressive, bleak landscape of the film’s flashbacks. The harsh desert settings and claustrophobic interiors ratchet up the pressure, the fire of an explosion rendering the brooding truth as an ember too hot to handle.
The film is a search for the truth, a revelation of the horrors of war that go under the radar - that have generation long impacts that can’t be seen or felt. That is, until the knowledge they’ve stumbled upon is finally revealed.
The structure of the film lays out their mother’s story - as her children set out to deliver her last wishes. They hunt out their father and brother, as we find out more about the life their mother came from. Keeping us just slightly ahead of them on their journey. The texture and raw, awful beauty of the world that Denis creates with his collaborators is truly epic in scope - I still find it hard to believe the film was based on a play. Watch it, with time to decompress afterwards.
TL;DR why should I spend 2 hrs 11 mins of my precious life watching this? Denis takes us on an audacious yet horrifically banal journey as twins reveal dark family secrets engineered through the atrocities of war, all rendered scorchingly beautiful to leave a lasting impact right at the beginning of a master’s quest in cinema.
*Available for a small rental fee on Apple TV, Amazon Prime, Rakuten, and for free on BFI Player.
Fact: When Villenueve was writing the script - he wrote the two Radiohead music cues into it, signalling how vital these songs are to the narrative.
FILM TWO: ENEMY
2013 Dir Denis Villeneuve
This film was an experiment in the words of the filmmaker himself. He wanted to craft an environment on set, and execute a story that would give him plenty of time to really try out things with the lead actors. In this case the lead is Jake Gyllenhaal, a history professor who comes across his double while watching a film. The rest of Enemy examines what happens when you meet the other side of yourself.
The film feels experimental in the sense that scenes play out in such subtle detail and performance. You have the instinct while watching it that the focus was on the delicate handling of these incredibly specific and nuanced moments.
One scene in particular stands out near the end of the film that shows the actress going through many emotions in just the subtlest of reactions. A blink here, a hand movement there, all revealing her realisations as the scene progresses. And all emphasised through Villeneuve’s adept framing and editing, that let the moments play out to the breaking point of the scene.
Denis is gifted with his handling of tension and the slow creep of dread. That’s on full display here in enemy - long corridor tracking shots with dim overhead lighting lead us into the beginning of a maze of a film. The monstrous side of us brought to life literally by a giant, horrifying spider, that seems to stalk the mind of the central characters just as much as it does the film’s anonymous Metropolis setting.
This is a stark, brutal tale - that is an analogue of the divide that can live in each of us - the one thing we want is not what we want when we have it. Instead we desire the thing that we don’t have and the person that we can be, or can’t be.
Enemy is a study of mood and performance - a thought experiment in many ways - a strong film that, like many of Villeneuve’s stays long after the duration has passed.
TL;DR why should I spend 1 hr 31 mins of my precious life watching this? This is not a normal doppelgänger tale. Denis takes us into the divided mind of a man who seems to be living two lives, the universal desire to be another thing, a different type of ourselves and the need to transform and live in a different way to the way we’re living now.
*Available for a small rental fee on Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Google Play and YouTube and for free on BFI Player and Virgin Media Go.
Fact: Enemy was made back to back with Prisoners and came out in the same year - both starring Jake Gyllenhaal.