It’s hard to imagine what Jose Saramago’s book is like; Denis Villneuve’s accomplished psychological thriller is so cinematic, there’s few trace of the literary origins. Enemy explores the idea of dopplegangers, on old chestnut from The Man Who Haunted Himself to The Double, but adds a new and disconcerting angle. Jake Gyllenhaal gives two subtly differentiated performances as a college lecturer and a aspiring actor who share the same face and body; when Adam spots his look-alike in a movie bit part, he sets out to track him down, only to be confronted with Anthony. Anthony suggests swapping places, and their respective partners Sarah Gadon and Melanie Laurent seem unable to spot the difference. Villneuve makes clever use of Toronto’s architecture to suggest the dualities of the deception, and Enemy also offers a weird backdrop of sex-clubs where naked women in high-heels squash giant spiders in stilettos. It’s weird fare, but not as overblown as Villneuve’s well acted but overlong and melodramatic Prisoners, and brilliantly performed by Gyllenhaal in probably his best performance to date.
While there’s not much to be said for the sequels that followed, David Cronenberg’s consideration of telekinesis is a nicely-done conspiracy thriller than benefits from the cold Canadian feel of the locations. Taking some ideas from the Thalidomide scandal, with pregnant women given drugs which adversely affected their children, the Scanners of the title are grown-ups who have destructive powers which the government seek to control; Cameron Vale (Stephen Lack) is on the case, and his final confrontation with revoke (perfect villain Michael Ironside) has become such a pop-cultural meme that it can cheerfully be referenced on The Big Bang Theory. Cronenberg also creates a big bang of his own in an explosive opening sequence, with a head tearing apart like a tomato in a microwave, but while the gore is capably handled by genre master Dick Smith, the whole production has a grimly downbeat feel that haunts the mind.
Bruce Beresford’s film would make a good double-bill with Roland Joffe’ s The Mission; with Jesuit priests as their main characters, both films explore the difference between heaven and earth with skill. Adapted by Brian Moore from his own novel, set in 164 Quebec, Father Laforgue (Lothaire Bluteau) sets out across snowy wastelands to establish contact with a remote mission, only to find the superstitions amongst his party tearing it apart. Based on a true story, Black Robe contrasts the beautiful but deadly vistas of remote locations with the physical and mental tortures that men exert on each other; it’s a darkly spiritual film that repays patient viewers.
Also known as A Man in Uniform, presumably to hide any gay subtext, writer/director David Wellington’s low-budget drama has a strong central idea; bank worker and aspiring actor Henry Adler (Tom McCamus) is bored of his life, but gets a part in a TV show as a cop. Taking his uniform home, he enjoys dressing up as a cop, and starts wearing his uniform on the streets to help him get into the part. But taking on the mantle of a policeman lands Henry in trouble; his encounters with real-life copy Frank (Kevin Tighe) can only lead to disaster. I Love A Man In Uniform is a slow-burning but tense affair, looking at the media’s obsession with police-work and how it impacts on one man’s frazzled psyche; well acted and constructed, it’s a perfect little sleeper.
A typically chilly Canadian venture from writer/director David Cronenberg, The Brood is a thought-provoking horror film that deals specifically with psychiatry and therapy. At the Summerfree institute, Dr Raglan (Oliver Reed) is experimenting with his patients; one, Nola (Samantha Eggar) is able to produce dwarf-like figures that act on her vengeful impulses. The dwarves resemble the haunting figure from the end of Don’t Look Now, and set about their victims in highly disturbing set-pieces. The Brood deals overtly with divorce and custody issues, as well as offering a withering critique of psychological experimentation techniques in a vivid, gory thriller.
Actress Sarah Polley has made quite a career for herself as an actress in popular movies like the Dawn of The Dead reboot, and as a director with Away From Her and Take This Waltz. For the documentary film, she turns the camera on herself and her own family, and documents her own search for her real father. Using home movies, she builds up a picture of her mother and family life, then embarks on a series of interviews with her adoptive dad and the man she believes his her real father. Stories We Tell ruminates intelligently on the way people can lie to themselves about who we are, and Polley includes herself in this equation; she demonstrates how she has to fake elements of the story to deal with them. Where most documentaries happily take on the mantle of truth, Polley’s film looks with admirable honesty at the nature of lies and why we need them to survive.
Novelist Douglas Coupland has produced a consistently high quality of novels with only a few clinkers (All Families Are Psychotic, Generation Y). His first effort at writing an original screenplay resulting in the excellent and relatively unknown comedy/drama Everything’s Gone Green, the story of Ryan (Paul Costanzo) an unmotivated young man who gets a new zest for life when he takes a job working for a national lottery in Canada. The catalyst is seeing his parents delighted then horrify when they wrongly imagine they’ve won a huge prize, but soon Ryan is coining in cash, and getting involved in money laundering. Paul Fox’s film has a superb attention to the minutia of Coupland script, from Ryan’s pimped-out car, the off-beat soundtrack, and the evocation of the sci-fi film that’s shooting in the background of Paul’s misadventures, the alien details of which pop up to reveal Ryan’s own alienation from his Toronto-based life. A great little comedy drama that hardly anyone saw, Everything’s Gone Green is a snapshot of a turning point of social disaffection with capitalism.