An interview with ENEMY director, Denis Villeneuve.
When I sat down to speak with one of Canada’s most celebrated, contemporary directors, Denis Villeneuve, the first thing he did was excuse himself for his supposedly inappropriate attire. He had been feted the previous evening for the success of his first feature playing at the Toronto International Film Festival this year, PRISONERS, and he had forgotten that he had to get up early and do press again all day the next day for his second film playing at the festival, ENEMY.
“For me, it’s perfect to do the press for ENEMY this way because its about the subconscious and I’m still in a dream state right now,” Villeneuve jokes, as he explains why he is essentially still “in his pajamas”, his words, not mine. He was wearing jeans and a t-shirt, in case you were curious.
Bringing two films to TIFF in the same year is no easy feat. Villeneuve shot ENEMY first, in the summer of 2012 and finished the final cut just one day before he flew south to begin work on PRISONERS. He went back and forth working on both films, completing them both just a couple of weeks before the festival started. He attributes his success with this juggling act to one person, his editor on ENEMY, Matthew Hannam (ANTIVIRAL).
“To make ENEMY, I needed my own double. I needed another me, which was Matt. It was the most intimate artistic relationship I’ve ever had because he was basically being me. He worked hard as hell,” Villeneuve admits, with humility that can be hard to come by in this field at times. Villeneuve doesn’t mind sharing the glory here in the least. “I love so much to share creatively. It was not stressful, it was playful, like playing with a friend outside. It was like our own secret project. We had a lot of fun making ENEMY.”
While I enjoyed PRISONERS a great deal, I was happy to be speaking with Villeneuve specifically about ENEMY, as I figured if there was one person who could explain the premise to me, based on the 2002 novel, The Double, by Jose Saramago, it would be the director of the film. ENEMY is the story of an ordinary man (Jake Gyllenhaal) who sees someone who looks exactly like him in a movie one day and decides to find this other man (also played by Jake Gyllenhaal) in order to understand what their connection might be. When I told Villeneuve that I didn’t fully comprehend the film, he couldn’t have been more pleased.
“That’s great! It was made with the idea of playing with cinema and playing with the audience,” Villeneuve states, without any trace of guilt for messing with my head. The influence for wanting to make this kind of movie? “I’m a big Kubrick fan. What I deeply love in his films is that there are always specific moments where I feel that I have no floor under my feet, like a feeling of vertigo.” Villeneuve claims 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY as his favourite film of all time and admits he still doesn’t fully understand everything in the film.
“I dreamt of trying to achieve this. I’m not comparing myself, of course. It’s just this idea of playing with the audience and to create a puzzle that resonates. If you see ENEMY in the morning and then again at night, you won’t have the same relationship with it.”
Aside from his editor, Villeneuve attributes the success of ENEMY to one other significant player, Gyllenhaal. “The biggest special effect in ENEMY is the actor. The audience needs to believe that he has just met himself – the power of this kind of encounter, how unbearable is it to see yourself. I needed to find someone who could make the audience feel the power of such an encounter,” Villeneuve explains of the burden Gyllenhaal had to bear in the role and he couldn’t be happier with the results. “He’s such a strong actor, just the way he moves, the way he breathes; he didn’t overdo it but man, they are still so different. I wanted to make it as subtle as possible and I have to give all the credibility of this equilibrium to Jake.”
ENEMY will be released theatrically in March after its festival run, including a quick stop back in Toronto as part of TIFF’s Canadian Top 10 series. Villeneuve is just excited for people to see it, if only because he wants to see the looks on their faces. “I expect people to leave ENEMY and say, ‘What the fuck!’ I want them to experience this kind of strange feeling of not being sure of what they’ve just been through.”
Having seen ENEMY myself, and loved it, I think its safe to say that Villeneuve’s wishes will most certainly come true.