Denis Villeneuve has already made waves at TIFF this year for the Jake Gyllenhaal and Hugh Jackman starring Prisoners, a Hollywood film that’s received rapturous reviews and introduced international critics to the French-Canadian auteur. Before working on Prisoners, however, Villeneuve and Gyllenhaal collaborated on Enemy, a much smaller Toronto-set film that’s also premiering at the festival. I haven’t seen Prisoners yet, but if it’s half as good as Enemy, then 2013 will be remembered as a banner year for Villeneuve.
Villeneuve’s vision of Toronto has been lifted from the Cronenberg films of the 90s. It’s cold and sterile and full of sad and stressed out people, but now there are more ominous shiny high-rises to dehumanize our residents. Adam (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a confidence-deprived history professor. He sees a bit part actor who looks exactly like him in a movie (jokingly referred to as a “local movie”) and investigates. Eventually, he discovers Anthony, his doppelganger (also Jake Gyllenhaal). They look identical, they have the same voice, and they both have wispy blonde lovers (Melanie Laurent for Adam and Sarah Gadon for Anthony).
There’s also something involving a discreet Eyes Wide Shut type sex club (with tarantulas!), Isabella Rossellini shows up as Adam’s mother, and there’s enough formal cues to make us question Adam’s sanity, but not enough to make an assumption. Villeneuve gained the profile to make these Gyllenhaal joints with the success of the very serious Incendies, but he seems to be having fun with Enemy. The atmosphere is dour, but the film experiments with form and genre in satisfyingly playful ways. I don’t know if the film’s ambiguity will resonate with audiences, and Villeneuve is already well on his way to a successful Hollywood career, but the “lesser” Villeneuve film at this fest is more than just a transitional oddity: Enemy is one of the best films here.
Enemy made its world premiere on Sunday.
Alan Jones writes about film for Toronto Standard. You can follow him on Twitter at @alanjonesxxxv.