The Brothers Quay don’t stray far from their stop-motion roots with Institute Benjamenta, or This Dream People Call Human Life, their first live-action feature (based upon Robert Walser’s novel Jakob von Gutten). Revisiting their animated shorts’ idiosyncratic visual and thematic preoccupations, the Quays’ film follows everyman Jakob (Mark Rylance) as he enrolls at the titular school, a gloomy, decaying establishment where Herr Benjamenta (Gottfried John) and his sister Lisa (Alice Krige) train men to be servants. Jakob’s arrival at the institute – where students are taught one single, monotonous lesson – is the catalyst for its destruction, as his presence arouses carnal desires in Lisa with which she cannot properly cope. Psychosexual tensions, the conflict between order and disorder, the fluid gap separating waking and slumbering life, and the vivid animation of seemingly inanimate objects – most forcefully depicted during a classroom scene in which vacant, somnambulistic students dance and sway like Lisa’s marionettes – are all tantalizing topics coded within the Quays’ meticulously constructed, engrossingly surreal mise-en-scène. Alas, despite its gorgeous dream imagery (which gives the film a malevolent through-the-looking-glass vibe) and heady concerns, Institute Benjamenta is often dramatically sluggish, the directors’ disinterest in traditional narrative momentum or performance making the film a beautiful, complex work that’s more easily enjoyed in hindsight.