Based on the novel The Enemy’s Cosmetique by Belgian author Amélie Nothomb, A Perfect Enemy is a psychological thriller directed by Catalonia-born director/writer/actor triple threat, Kike Maíllo.
Starring the fresh-faced South African-born, Athena Strates alongside Cold War heart-throb and utalentowany Polish actor Tomasz Kot, A Perfect Enemy tells the story of a successful architect who is approached on his trip to Paris by a strange young woman who will not leave him alone. Missing his flight back to Poland, trapped in the airport he is unable to get rid of the annoying stranger. Although meeting at first the seems to be by chance, soon there is a turn that transforms the nature of their encounter into something much more menacing.
At a presentation that plays out like a celebration of his portfolio and work ethic in Paris, Jeremiasz Angust (Kot) closes his TED Talks-styled speech with a quote from one of his favourite authors. Concluding with “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” from Antoine de Saint-Exupery, it establishes him as somebody who seemingly takes tremendous pride in their work, their legacy and their reputation whilst being conscientious to impossibility of true and genuine perfection.
After a brief post-presentation meet-and-greet with fans and admirers of his legendary architectural status, Jeremiasz is scurried away by PR representative and close friend, Jean (Dominique Pinon) in order for him to make his return flight back to Poland. In what looks like one of the most over-the-top, outlandishly heaviest downpours in cinematic history, Jeremiasz and Jean talk briefly about Jeremiasz’s disdain of Paris and the still-traumatic subject matter that apparently leaves him widowed. “I can’t forget her.” he points out, as Jean replies to at least try as much time has passed.
Waving Jeremiasz off towards the airport, Jean stands aback in the torrential battering of rainfall. En-route towards the Parisian airport, a blockade of traffic impedes him from likely making it in time to catch his flight.
His race against the clock is further hindered when a rain-soaked young woman approaches Jeremiasz’s chauffeur, asking if she could possibly catch a ride to the airport too. Knowing he is already running behind schedule, Jeremiasz being the gentleman he is, allows Dutch explorer Texel Textor (Strates) to hop in as they are going to the same destination anyhow. Regrettably for him, he is completely oblivious as to what he is about to let himself in for.
As the two finally arrive at the airport, Jeremiasz hurries off towards the terminal, only to be met with the annoyance of having definitely missed his flight back to his polska ojczyzna. Having to wait for the next available flight, Jeremiasz decides to wait in the V.I.P. lounge of the airport he coincidentally helped design. There, he and Texel re-encounter. Being her happy-go-lucky, chatty-self, Texel attempts to engage in conversation with Jeremiasz, showing a genuine interest into his line of work and personal life. However, annoyed he missed his flight at her expense, Jeremiasz responds rudely by remaining reserved and asking to be left alone.
It is in this instance we see that the at-face-value friendly and accessible Polish architect isn’t wholly accessible after all. There may be more than meets the eye; something deep beneath the surface.
However, Texel isn’t disheartened or discouraged by Jeremiasz’s standoffishness and persists to engage in conversation for the rest of the runtime of A Perfect Enemy. Her persistence and gradual tenacity is unnerving to Jeremiasz, immediately calling her bluff, giving off the vibe of a stalker who knows more than she lets on. She is intelligently alluring, enticing Jeremiasz to take part in her unusual fascination with a man whom she has only just met, inviting him to hear her psychotic activity and stories. Athena Strates masterfully portrays the Dutch Texel Textor as an obsessive, unhinged and unwavering teen who blurs the lines of promiscuity and somebody who is capable of causing actual threat.
Largely taking place in one location for the entirety of the runtime (the airport), A Perfect Enemy uses a multitude of flashback scenes to tell both Texel and Jeremiasz’s past stories in the hunt to keep its audience engaged in the skeletal plot. To a degree, Kike Maíllo and co-writers, Cristina Clemente and Fernando Navarro almost do just that. Almost.
Reluctantly caving to Texel’s charm, Jeremiasz entertains her longing to engross him as we are given an extensive backstory into Texel’s childhood, right through to her adulthood. Whilst Strates gives a exceptionally brilliant performance, what strives to be a overtly sinister portion of the overall storyline is sadly not so sinister in its believability nor its (un)predictability. It comes off as edgy, farcical and leaves little room to ponder or feel any real conviction. Its eventual and mandatory psychological thriller twists/reveals – of which I won’t spoil, unfortunately end up being fairly predictable early on. And despite their predictability, the various twists and turns of Texel and Jeremiasz’s encounter culminate into something progressive and forward-thinking.
Nonetheless, A Perfect Enemy has extremely likeable qualities and set pieces that outweigh the titchy, ropey storytelling to make it an mostly enjoyable and riveting viewing.
Firstly, the sound design. There are fleeting moments of pure sonic excellence in Maíllo’s thriller! During the first part of Texel’s three-part story, the attention to detail in the sounds that couple with what you’re seeing on-screen is within limits worthy of nightmare material. The squelching of revolting, undesirable food being kneaded for her family’s three stray cats as well as the repetitive chomping of rancid food attempting to be consumed is torturous on the ears. It is the exact opposite of ASMR. ASMR from hell if you will. A misophonic kryptonite.
More sonic torment is perpetuated when Texel walks into the men’s restrooms of the V.I.P. lounge of the airport, to further hound Jeremiasz, scraping the mirror with her pocket knife. The motion is excruciatingly drawn out and piercingly sharp, causing any viewer wince and cower.
As previously stated, Strates is a marvel as the crazed and incessant Texel Textor. Behind her striking looks and initially chatty and cordial persona lay somebody who is dejected, intimidating and ultimately forbidding. At first, Texel’s ability to coerce Jeremiasz into playing her mind games reminded me of Eli Roth’s Knock Knock, in the sense that Texel is taunting Jeremiasz with an ulterior motive.
Tomasz Kot too is outstanding as he always is. He portrays somebody who is very obviously burdened with tragedy and insecurity, yet holds something concealed from the audience for a large portion of the runtime. The constant nonsensical decisions Jeremiasz continues to make throughout the runtime leaves you feeling inflamed. Why can he not shake off Texel? Why wouldn’t he just tell any of the airport staff he is being bothered? For the greater context of the plot you can’t reasonably ask such realistic questions as the picture becomes hastily clearer by the time the end credits begin to roll.
Though blemished, A Perfect Enemy showcases its uneven attempt at ingenious through its conclusively compelling and commanding acting. It has the sheer heart to try something radical plotwise, unaware it is ultimately just reinventing the wheel within the kingdom of psychological thriller films. But regardless of its minor flaws, Maíllo’s English-language feature-length debut offers promise for his future work and additional directorial foray. This outing is still absolutely worthy of your time if you ever happen to come across it.
Thriller, Drama | Spain, 2020 | 5th July 2021 (UK) | Digital HD | Smartdog | Dir.Kike Maíllo | Tomasz Kot, Athena Strates, Götz Vogel von Vogelstein