A Perfect Enemy (2021)

Jeremiasz Angust (Tomasz Kot, Cold War) is a successful international architect, the kind of person who delivers self-important inspirational pseudo Ted Talks on nebulous concepts of ‘perfection’ to adoring admirers. But his insular bubble will soon be burst by the appearance of Tesel Textor (Athena Strates), a Dutch twenty-something stranger who persuades him to share his airport taxi with her.

Kike Maíllo’s A Perfect Enemy is a psychological thriller with an engaging premise and enough intrigue that I was never quite sure where it was going to take me.

Tomasz Kot as Jeremiasz in A Perfect Enemy

Once at the airport, Jeremiasz finds he can’t shake Tesel, who turns out to be an obnoxious blabbermouth intent on telling him her personal story. Her surname, she proudly informs him, is Latin for “the one who weaves text’”. She’ll tell a trio of tales, she says: the first will disgust him, the second is scary and the third will end in love. At first they seem attention-seeking and trivial, but Tesel gradually draws him into her stories, nomatter how irritating he finds his unwanted companion, and they begin to take a very personal aspect.

The film captures the calm limbo of the clinical anonymous luxury of the business lounge, with enough expanse to never feel too constrained. It’s ironic that in this setting Jeremiasz literally has no way to escape. Maillo captures the uncanny sense of stasis and this gives the film a curiously muted tone. It’s no coincidence that the building was one of Jeremiasz’s early designs. We regularly zoom into an architectural display model of the airport, the scale figures in the model echoing the events we’ve been watching, as if it’s all taking place in an arena of Jeremiasz’s own construction.

Athena Strates as Texel in A Perfect Enemy

Despite its single setting, there are plenty of flashbacks to add variety and intrigue. Playfully, Tesel frequently resets Jeremiasz’s imagination as she tells her stories, urging him not to project his past onto how he visualises them. The film has fun with memory and amnesia as Tesel’s tales begin to get inside Jeremiasz’s head.

A two-hander like this very much depends on its leads. Strates is very watchable as Tesel. At the risk of annoying the audience her performance is very present and slightly over-the-top, but despite her character’s over-sharing she remains an enigmatic character. She enjoys dropping teasing intrigues – she claims she killed someone as a child – and revels in her unruliness. By contrast, Kot’s taciturn performance as Jeremiasz has very little charisma despite playing a starchitect. Admittedly, there’s a deliberate contrast between the two characters, but Strates has to do all the heavy lifting here while Kot mostly reacts with irritation. Unfortunately her restless movements and delivery can tend to over-compensate for some clunky dialogue and risk becoming tiresome.

Jeremiasz (Tomasz Kot) and Texel (Athena Strates) in A Perfect Enemy
“My name is Texel. Texel Textor. I’m Dutch”

As the plot develops with an enjoyable labyrinth of reflections and psychological echoes, an attentive viewer might predict some of the twists fairly early, but the film is well enough constructed that it’s not a problem. In some ways, this feels like the kind of low-budget psychological thriller that was so prevalent in the 1990s, very watchable despite being a little silly. The film loses its way towards the end, there’s some very clumsy dialogue and the psychological conceit is slightly hackneyed, but A Perfect Enemy tells us an enjoyable story nevertheless.

A Perfect Enemy is released for streaming and download on 5th July 2021.

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