On the Scene at Jeonju Film Fest: AYOADE, EISENBERG SAVE BEST ‘TIL LAST

It seems only fitting that that my final review from the Jeonju International Film Festival is of “The Double,” which is the sophomore effort from British indie director Richard Ayoade and is loosely based on the eponymous Dostoevsky novel. With it being one of the hottest tickets at this year’s JIFF, I’ve definitely saved the best for last.

If you’re unfamiliar with Richard Ayoade, his first film was the critically acclaimed “Submarine,” but he is probably best known for his roles in front of the camera in offbeat British comedies such as “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace,” “The Mighty Boosh” and most notably, “The IT Crowd.” The comedy of “Ayoade” has always been surreal so it seemed that he would be a perfect fit for the story of a lonely man who meets his more successful doppelganger.

Simon James (Jesse Eisenberg) is a hardworking, yet instantly forgettable employee at a government agency. He has a crush on coworker Hannah (Mia Wasikowska) but she tends to see straight through him, much like his bosses. So imagine his dismay when the company he works for hires a new employee, James Simon, who is identical to Simon in every way – yet he is instantly more popular and more successful with women, including Hannah. As James starts to rise through the ranks and Simon is being forgotten a little bit more each day, Simon plans to take his life back in any way he can.

An extremely enjoyable film, “The Double” owes its style to several different sources, most notably David Lynch, Terry Gilliam and the works of Franz Kafka. The film is dark and Simon awkwardly skulks about the frame with his shirt buttoned up to the top, much like Henry Spencer in “Eraserhead.” You are never quite sure what year the movie is set. It feels like the future, but the technology is definitely from the past. And characters run like clockwork and are devoid of rationale. They just work for the omnipotent leader who pervades the film, the Colonel, reminiscent of 1984 and Terry Gilliam’s classic, “Brazil.”

 

 

The world in “The Double” is confusing, frustrating, yet engrossing. Take for example the company in which Simon works, and has worked for several years. The security guard sees him every day yet constantly refuses to let him in. He does this every single day. Why does no one listen to Simon, but when James says exactly the same thing, people take notice and call him brilliant? It’s just another example of the absurd, Kafkaesque nature of “The Double.”

The final word should be given to Jesse Eisenberg, who is excellent as both Simon James and James Simon. His awkward, mumbling nature is a perfect fit for shy Simon and the more confident James, yet he does an excellent job at making the two, almost identical characters look and feel totally different. I would say that along with “The Social Network,” this is the best I’ve seen him.

I’ve managed to see a lot of quality movies at JIFF thus far, but “The Double” is probably the best of the lot. I’m not going to pretend I’ve fully worked out the films conclusion, but I loved every moment of it. The film is so positively absurd it’s hilarious. And just because Richard Ayoade uses several stylistic tricks to tell his story, it doesn’t mean he has simply made a pastiche or homage. “The Double” is definitely its own film, and a very good one at that.

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