Directed by: Kike Maillo
Written by: Cristina Clemente, Kike Maillo, Fernando Navarro
Starring: Tomasz Kot, Athena Strates, Marta Nieto, Dominique Pinon
Film Review by: William Hemingway
A Perfect Enemy Review
A Perfect Enemy film review
“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away,” says Jeremiasz Angust (Kot) in the opening scene of A Perfect Enemy, quoting Antoine de Saint Exupery to end his self-aggrandising presentation on the philosophy of architecture, whilst simultaneously outlining himself as a perfectionist. After a quick meet and greet Angust is then whisked away in a chauffeur-driven car so that he can get to the airport and out of Paris as quickly as possible. Paris holds bad memories for him you see, as it was the scene of his deepest regret when his wife left him twenty years earlier, a failure he still carries with him, borne by the ring he continues to wear on his finger to this day.
It is obvious that Angust is an uptight and stuffy character, sheltered from the realities of the outside world by hard-working assistants, luxurious surroundings and dark-tinted windows, which makes it all the more surprising that he allows his inner world to be breached by a brash, blonde bombshell in the shape of Texel Textor (Strates). This young Dutch girl appears from out of the pouring rain and raps on his car window while he’s stuck in traffic, asking him for a lift to the airport. As luck would have it he’s going her way and so Angust reluctantly agrees to offer help to a damsel in distress not realising, or seemingly considering, how this might affect his own plans and his own journey. Inevitably no good deed goes unpunished and after a quick turnaround to retrieve a forgotten backpack Angust arrives at the airport to find that he has missed his flight. Not only that but this young girl with her in-your-face personality has also gotten into his head and he is glad to wave goodbye to her as he makes for the VIP Lounge to wait for the next plane home.
So, you can imagine Angust’s consternation when somehow young Texel suddenly turns up in the same lounge, part of the terminal that he himself designed, and continues to badger him with her incessant chatter and thinly veiled attempts to engage him in philosophical debate. What follows is then a run-of-the-mill thriller as the two protagonists play an idle game of cat and mouse throughout the airport lounge while the audience desperately waits for some underlying concept to emerge. Unfortunately, that reveal is still a long way away and in order to get to it we must suffer through Texel’s story, along with Angust, as she ekes out piece by piece the drama that she would like us to implicitly be a part of.
As Texel tells it, her story has three parts: one disgusting, one scary and one that ends in love, and so the meat and bones of the narrative have been laid before us, supposedly whetting our appetite for what is to come. Sadly though, these morsels are over-ripe and are bland and tasteless in the telling. There is a lot of heavy dialogue and expository voice-over that permeates each part of the story and none of the flashback scenes ever really gets the time and space to grow and breathe. Director and co-writer Kike Maillo seems more intent on the telling of the tale rather than on the tale itself and as a result, everything feels fairly rushed and perfunctory. In effect the narrative becomes ‘Tell, Don’t Show’ and Maillo seems to have set things out as ‘I’ll tell you how I’m going to tell you a story then I’m going to tell you that story just like I told you I would tell it’ which, given the dialogue, isn’t too far removed from sounding like one of Texel’s own lines.
The actors, too, seem to be having a really hard time delivering their lines with any emotion or connection to what they are saying. True, both characters are somewhat psychopathic and therefore have an underlying disconnect, but that’s not the issue – it’s that Maillo has taken the decision to film the piece in English despite most of his actors having very strong accents. This is not the actor’s fault and we know that they have proven records with their acting ability, especially Tomasz Kot with his excellent performance in Pawlikowski’s Cold War. It’s just that the ask of delivering such verbose statements in quick succession, in a manner that is supposed to indicate verbal jousting, is just too much when they are thinking about their pronunciation and making the right shapes with their mouths. Instead of a fast-paced repartee a la Aaron Sorkin’s The Social Network what we get is a form of verbal bellyflopping where the words just jump out of the actor’s mouths without any direction, style or grace and then land flat with a thud.
Maillo has said in an interview that he made the decision to film in English “right from the get-go” because he wanted to give “that feeling of a non-place” and proceedings would appear “more international”. However, given that A Perfect Enemy is basically a chamber play and the settings of the airport and the graveyard and the apartment could have been in any unnamed city, it feels as though other, better decisions could have been made in the construction of the film. Certainly it would have been better to hear a natural cadence and rhythm to the speech, in French perhaps, and read subtitles rather than listen to the actors sound as though they are chewing on pencil shavings.
Where A Perfect Enemy finally comes into its own is in the third act, after we have listened to Texel’s story and we realise just how connected the two main characters are. Here we eventually get to glimpse the underlying nature of what is driving the narrative and we understand that there is a character study at play with some filthy and nefarious themes to boot. Sadly this all comes as too little too late, and if we are still interested in the story at all we begin to wonder why more of this ugly, compelling psychopathology wasn’t explored in much greater detail earlier on in the proceedings. For a film that outwardly talks so much about storytelling, it is odd that this is the area where it falls down the most.
Maillo, being a veteran writer/director of several short films and a handful of features, has a good sense of how to set up his frames and make his shots look enticing. There is always a sense of grandiosity to the surroundings, reflecting the perfectionism that Angust aspires to, and which allows the viewer a visual treat when everything is so easy on the eye. The production value is obviously very high in this Spanish/French/German collaboration and it would be a shame if everyone involved didn’t feel like they got what they wanted from the final product. There is certainly a lot of promise in the underlying material of this movie, based as it is on the book Cosmetique de L’ennemi, however, the audience is essentially let down by the decisions made in its adaptation and in the way the story is told. There are much better modern European thrillers out there and rather ironically it appears that A Perfect Enemy’s most difficult adversary to overcome was the enemy within.
A Perfect Enemy will be available on Amazon/Google and iTunes from 5th July