09 February, 2012

AJFF: "My Best Enemy" (****)

Ursula Strauss, Marthe Keller and Moritz Bleibtreu star in "My Best Enemy"
Last night marked the opening of the 2012 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival at the Fox Theatre. The film was "My Best Enemy," an Austrian production from the makers of 2008's Foreign Language Oscar champ "The Counterfeiters." I hadn't heard much about "My Best Enemy" apart from a few mixed reviews after it screened at Berlinale last year, so I had some doubts regarding how the audience would react to the film. I happily admit defeat. The cool couple-of-thousand I estimate to be in attendance last night loved the movie. In fact, I heard such enthusiasm around me, I think it has a shot at this year's Audience Prize.

The film's tepid first act lingers in-between two tones; one light and sweet, the other a bit grim. As soon as the film finds it's footing, it's off with a bang. As the second act begins with an identity swap, any residue of the early dimness is quickly lost. Moments of quick wit are tucked into a screenplay that becomes increasingly playful as it continues. Twists and turns come and go, but none so great as the one that cues the film's final act. The film presents an intricate plot very simply, leaving the audience with little chance of any confusion without taking away their guessing game.

The "Inglourious Basterds" comparisons abound, thanks to the development of historical fantasy plot points. The two films are only loosely tied together, though, with the alternate history genre and subject matter being the only things in common.

One of the film's best elements is Matthias Weber's score, which sounds like a more commercial take on one of Ennio Morricone's jazzy scores from the 1980s. Moritz Bleibtreu leads a strong cast of performers, leaving us with no question as to why he is one of the most prominent faces of today's German film industry.

The movie is so convincing with it's tongue-in-cheek intentions, you can't help but admire it. A brisk caper and a roaring crowd-pleaser, "My Best Enemy" is a smart choice for the opening night film.

4 out of 5 stars.

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