Perfect Enemy

A Perfect Enemy (2020)

Jeremiasz Angust (Tomasz Kot) is a perfectionist. When we first meet this well-groomed, internationally acclaimed architect at the beginning of Kike Maíllo’s A Perfect Enemy, he is visiting Paris – a city that had for several years been his home – to give a Ted-style inspirational talk about his lifelong pursuit of architectural perfection, during which time ‘a serious personal crisis’ turned him from working on prestige projects in the West to constructing hospitals for impoverished regions of Africa. The Polish native is now a man of the world, a philanthropist, a social justice warrior, a guru-like superstar and single – although the wedding band that he still wears on his finger, some two decades after his pregnant wife disappeared from his life, is the chink in his otherwise immaculate veneer. Her departure is a failure that he carries with him still, even after he has ostensibly moved on and devoted himself to good works in a global family.

On his way to the Parisian airport – an airport that he once helped design – Jeremiasz finds his chauffeur-driven car being commandeered by a young Dutch woman who is seeking refuge from the rain and is desperate for a lift to the airport. Once Texel Textor (Athena Strates) has attached herself to Jeremiasz, she will not let go. Texel points out that her surname marks her, via Latin, as ‘the one who weaves text’, and as this odd couple becomes stranded together waiting for a plane, Texel will insist on passing the time by weaving a tripartite version of her life story for Jeremiasz.  The three chapters of this tale – “the first,” as Texel says, “disgusting, the second, scary, and the third one end[ing] with love’ – will tease out the differences and similarities between its narrator and her immediate, not altogether willing audience. For where Jeremiasz is meticulous, refined, restrained, and someone who sees things only in concrete terms, Texel is impulsive, unruly, a lover of abstractions – and a self-confessed killer. And yet, ever so gradually, Texel’s story will start to intersect violently with Jeremeiasz’s own through a woman (Marta Nieto) known to them both – and so the carefully constructed perfection of Jeremeiasz’s life will be deconstructed, piece by piece, to its deeply damaged foundations.

    Based on the 2001 novel Cosmétique de l’ennemi by Amélie Nothomb, Maíllo’s film is all at once a tightly woven anthology, a dynamic character portrait and a psychological study in repression and ‘the demon of guilt’. Texel talks of having “an inner enemy, a thousand times more powerful than God”, that makes her behave in certain ways and do bad things. “It’s what crosses your path every day,” she explains. “destroying everything that’s worthwhile.” Jeremiasz is an atheist, but in Texel he has found his own perfect enemy – an interlocutor who finds all the cracks in his rational, materialist world. A Perfect Enemy is a surreal thriller, rooted in a dialectic between unequals – and even if some viewers will be way ahead of Jeremiasz in seeing the coming twists, there is real pleasure to be had in admiring the grand architectural design of the plotting (all reflective surfaces and multi-storied symmetries), and also in seeing all this superbly crafted mise-en-scène rendered very, very messy, as a man’s perfection is pried apart to expose the flaws buried underneath. 

strap: In Kike Maíllo’s psychological thriller, a story-telling stranger undermines the meticulously constructed life of a celebrity architect.

© Anton Bitel