“Why would I go to a therapist when airports exist?” asks a cheerful Tessel (Athena Strates) to a gloomy Jeremiasz (Tomasz Kot). The duo met only a few moments before when the young woman stopped the man’s car as a last attempt to make it in time to catch her flight. A soaking wet blabbermouth, Tessel immediately makes herself comfortable in the luxurious chauffeur-driven car, sharing deeply personal stories as if they were casual anecdotes. Jeremiasz, who only offered her a lift thanks to the tight shackles of politeness, squirms on his seat, unable to comprehend the girl’s proclivity to oversharing.
A prominent architect, Jeremiasz has the sombre countenance of a man well-acquainted with loneliness. There are mentions of a vanished wife, the faded wedding ring still sitting on his finger, but no other relationships have followed. His life, it seems, revolves around his career, success nurturing vanity. When alone, the architect goes through photos of book readings or public talks, drinking from the high of positive reviews as he quickly deletes any ratings below four. In the world he constructed, there is no space for anything that isn’t praise.
By the time they reach their destination, the increasingly annoyed man has realised it is far too late to catch his plane but is glad to finally be freed from the bothersome stranger. The elation, however, is fleeting, as Tessel, who also missed her plane, soon finds her way back to Jeremiasz, picking up the conversation with the ease of the unbothered. “I think there’s a certain availability about you”, she tells him. “Don’t kid yourself, I’m not available”, he bluntly replies, patience running thin.
A Perfect Enemy’s first act consists of a clumsily set up game of cat and mouse that is painfully long while also gracelessly rushed. All the elements of a classic psychological thriller are there and yet it feels like a vital chunk of the story was skipped by – not in a charming, well-constructed manner – but in a way that makes it incredibly hard to sustain tension. By the time one begins to feel even slightly interested in the web that is being weaved, it is far too late to gather even a mild enthusiasm.
Based on Amélie Nothomb’s book “The Enemy’s Cosmetique”, A Perfect Enemy often feels like it would have done much better on a stage. Director Kike Maíllo relies on gimmicky visual tricks, such as the use of a small model as a narrative device, when a more effective approach would be simply allowing the dialogue to take front and centre. The time spent on flashbacks breaks the claustrophobic atmosphere the film tries so hard to establish, never fully allowing the strained dynamics between Tessel and Jeremiasz to settle. Whenever the central conflict starts amping up, we are once again hit by a bucket of cold water in the form of lines such as “You don’t know what is like to be thirsty and not have the right to drink” or “I must have committed the perfect crime… I’m still free”.
Completely embodying the over-the-top traits of her character, South African actress Athena Strates delivers a permanently frantic performance. The decision of sustaining a torturous level of obnoxity, rather than of contributing to this notion of an unbearable stalker, becomes rapidly tiresome. Alongside her, Tomasz Kot provides little relief as he descends into Jeremiasz’s paranoia, pacing furiously throughout the airport the architect designed at the peak of his career. Together, the duo seems to partake in a contest for who can scream louder, push further – carelessly bypassing any sort of nuance.
Throughout its final twenty minutes, A Perfect Enemy proves that, buried under the heavy weights of a poorly adapted story, lies what could have been an interesting exploration of the ever-present consequences of guilt. Instead, what Maíllo offers is a dragged study of psychopathy that never goes beyond the predictable. Here, we are denied the sweet ecstasy of a reveal, too exhausted by the unrefined noise to enjoy the twists and turns. Oh well, there is no use crying over spilled milk.
A Perfect Enemy is available in Theatres and On Demand June 11, 2021