Tuesday, 22 July 2014

NZIFF Review - Enemy and The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

NZIFF Review - Enemy and The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness

Two completely polar opposites at the New Zealand International Film Festival both hit different notes.

In Denis Villeneuve's Enemy, the Incendies director takes Jake Gyllenhaal and doubles him up. One Gyllenhaal is Adam Bell, a college lecturer whose world is a pattern that repeats itself as he drifts from one lecture to the next, and spends time with his girlfriend (Melanie Laurent). One day, he's recommended a movie by a colleague and appearing to see himself in the film, his world completely changes as he tries to track down the actor (played by a second Gyllenhaal, who subtly shifts traits). Initially reticent to get involved, Bell becomes obsessed in tracing this doppelganger...

Enemy is adapted from The Double by Jose Saramago and is as suspenseful a watch as it is baffling. Opening at an erotic dance club with a woman squashing a spider and ending with a real "What the?" moment, it's devoid of definitive answers as it spins its tantalising web.

Villeneuve's scattered clues throughout this Lynchian style piece and it clearly would benefit from a second screening as you try to take in all of what appears to be going on under the surface. What part do the spiders play? Why is there an exact double with a version of a similar girlfriend attached to each? Why is there a shot of a spider with ginormous legs stalking over the cityscape that Adam lives in? Is any of it real or is the duality happening within his own mind a la Tyler Durden? So many questions, so much endless discussion - and yet, Enemy is as thrilling a watch as it is indecipherable.

Beginning with a quote that "Chaos is order yet undeciphered" the hook pulls you in as the monotony of life, repetition of routine and the menace of the score begin to bite and inveigle their way into you, burrowing deep inside your subconscious. Themes of escape, conformity, oppression and philandering are all buried within and given life by the subtlest of performances.

Unsettling and disturbing, with plenty of food for thought, Enemy is a fascinating and compelling watch as the slow pans and swoops through a bleak yellow landscape seal you in their web. See it at least twice to work out what's what in this creepy mind game that's one hell of a trip.

Elsewhere, it's a more gentle approach to life in the doco about Studio Ghibli, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness.

Following the maestro of the animated world of Ghibli, Hayao Miyazaki as he works on The Wind Rises, which would be his final film, is a joy to anyone who's ever revelled in any of the studio's output.

Director Sunada Mami manages to ingratiate herself within the world of Ghibli, initially focussing on the great Miyazaki and proffering insight into his unique routine, before widening the net slightly to those who work with him and for him.

Clothed in a white pinny and with a cigarette dangling from his mouth as well as an artistic implement in his hand at any one time, Miyazaki makes for a good doco subject and an interesting one to spend time with - if you're familiar with the work. After all, a good doco talks to its fans, a great doco talks to all.

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness will appeal to those who know Ghibli, but I'm not sure the broader appeal can be so well satiated. That's not to say that the beautifully shot and nicely crafted piece doesn't work - it could do with losing a half hour of its run time as it appears to run out of steam - but at times, it feels like a surface piece more suited to promoting the idea of Miyazaki rather than exploring the world outside of his Ghibli studio. A real lack of anything of his personal life except for one shot of his presumed wife is a disappointment, but admittedly the focus is purely centred on the work at the studio, the 10 hour daily routine and the interactions in between the calisthenics and storyboarding. As an insight into a genius and their methods of working, it's spot on; but the best moment of Mami's piece comes when she reveals how Miyazaki responds to a letter sent to him about the actions of his father earlier on in life. It's this moment that shows why the man is so revered and why The Wind Rises was such an intensely personal note to end on - it's just a shame there weren't more of those scattered throughout this immensely charming piece that will satisfy fans but leave others slightly wanting.

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