Wolfgang Murnberger dares to inject a vein of humour into an otherwise harrowing genre, with My Best Enemy attempting to create a Holocaust drama with a more upbeat tempo than we’ve become accustomed to.
My Best Enemy opens with a plane crash where the only remaining survivors are two previous best friends, Rudi Smekal, a Nazi officer and Victor Kaufmann, a Jewish concentration camp prisoner. The story then flashes back to their lives in Vienna just before the outbreak of the Second World War.
Victor’s family were wealthy before the war due to his father being a successful art dealer who held in his possession a rare Michelangelo drawing. Rudi on the other hand came from a less privileged back ground, he was the son of Victor’s father’s housekeeper and despite being childhood friends, used his knowledge of Victor’s father’s precious artefact to ingratiate himself with the Nazi party (who he had joined whilst previously on a trip to Germany). Soon enough Germany had invaded Austria, taking Victor’s father’s rare piece of art and separating their family, sending them each to separate concentration camps. If victimising his family wasn’t enough, Rudi also began to make moves on Victor’s love interest, leaving no stone unturned in this act of betrayal.
Years go by and as the war nears its end the Nazis discover that what they had once perceived to be an immensely valuable drawing is in fact a fake. Rudi is dispatched to retrieve Victor and find the real piece. This exposition brings us up to date with the film’s opening act, with what happens next an absurd experimental attempt to create a farcical comedy against a backdrop of mass genocide and war crimes!
The film’s attempts at humour (albeit black humour) are completely misguided, continuingly unable to penetrate the maudlin aura which surrounds these events. My Best Enemy is a technically solid film which, whilst hard to criticise is also equally difficult to recommend. The film’s first half is very by-the-numbers in how it builds the story, leading to what by all rights should be an enthralling finale. However, the third act is marred by the mere implausibility of it all, with the humour falling on deaf ears and little to no emotional attachment to either of the film’s central characters.
Both Victor and Rudi are not particularly well developed characters. Victor never seems struck by loss or grief, which, considering the magnitude of persecution he has undergone seems bizarre, whilst Rudi is too plain and emotionless to convey the jealously that supposedly drives him towards the ruthless actions he performs.
Whilst it must be said that this playful approach to such an emotionally fraught subject should be commended for attempting to create something unique and enjoyable whilst remaining grounded in such a harrowing back story, the two elements never see to gel.
It’s a shame as despite these numerous flaws there’s the basis of a great film. The cinematography is beautiful whilst the film’s era defining jazz score is a perfect accompaniment to what is all in all, a perfectly watchable drama, that just fails to become anything more. Its initial promise of becoming a jovial yet poignant wartime drama, if achieved, would have made My Best Enemy a necessary Second World War film, yet, sadly it has merely evolved into a story which negates the bravery and courage of those who sadly found themselves in similar situations.
My Best Enemy is out on DVD 12th September 2011.
Director: Wolfgang Murnberger
Stars: Moritz Bleibtreu, Georg Friedric, Ursula Strauss
Runtime: 109 min
Country: Austria, Luxembourg