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Double Life (Topeltelu)

A solitary wife yearns for the affection of a man she has hired to impersonate her husband - minimalistic Japanese film premieres at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


A touching minimalistic drama from Japan premieres at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. Self-produced by Chinese director Enen Yo, the film brings forward a narrative about self-affirmation in the midst of a crumbling relationship. Slow-paced and sparingly austere, a sense of humility pervades the distant cinematography by Takumi Kohama. Shot within the language of the intimate, it features a stellar central performance from Atsuko Kikuchi, in the role of Shiori, an injured former dancer desperate to recapture lost feelings of love. She longs to reconnect with her cold and unfriendly husband, who, she suspects, is having an affair with a bookseller. As a strategy to beckon her husband towards her orbit of affection, she has organised for them to attend a ‘body touching workshop’ for couples called ‘Communicating Love’. When her husband lets her down, telling her he is busy on that evening, after months of planning, she is faced with no other option but to engage the services of a ‘husband impersonator’ with whom to attend the workshop. Soon, she starts nurturing a peculiar platonic affair with the man she has hired to play her lover.

She rents out an apartment where the two can meet. She also buys rings for them to exchange. The flat becomes an island, severed from daily reality, where subtle signs of affection come to blossom. As the two pretend to be husband and wife for some hours, an afternoon or a whole day, Shiori’s loneliness begins to mend. All sexual activity is excluded though as the contract they have both signed specifies. A deft and refined actor, the impersonator claims that his roles become his life. His seduction is so immaculate that, for a few hours, Shiori can feel the warmth of the impersonator’s embrace and devoted signs of love. She is, however, fooled by the sumptuousness of his performance. As this game unfolds, viewers attempt to uncover where the dividing line is between the truth and the performance. Could the impersonator also be falling for Shiori?

While Double Life can often be movingly candid in its study of familiar themes in new, unexplored ways, it can also at times test the viewer’s patience. Its cinematography, while giving off a sense of modesty, can feel slightly too minimalisticic, almost documentary-like, milky tones lacking in colour. Solo piano tracks appear from time to time, one of them being Pachelbel’s Canon which becomes extremely repetitive by the end of the film. Overall, the film presents a satisfying narrative about a woman who has lost all love and yearns to fill her heart again by bravely hiring the unlikely services of a stranger. However, a plot like this could have lent itself very well to more imaginative lapses into genre or formalism in order to convey similar ideas. While its narrative is well-constructed, it is presented through a monotonous form which is reluctant to embrace the creative possibilities of the cinematic language. There are, though, plenty of intricate moments filled with exquisite delicacy and Atsuko Kikuchi’s performance brings the film to life.

Double Life premiered at the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

By Liván García-Duquesne - 27-11-2022

Livan Garcia-Duquesne is a UK-based French-Spanish filmmaker and writer. He holds an MPhil in Film & Screen Studies from the University of Cambridge and his academic work has been centred around t...

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