My Best Enemy (German: Mein bester Feind), 2011.
Directed by Wolfgang Murnberger.
Starring Moritz Bleibtreu, Georg Friedrich, Ursula Strauss, Marthe Keller and Udo Samel.
In Austria during World War Two, the son of an Jewish art gallery owner is shocked to find that the family friend has been working as a Nazi officer. After both surviving a transport plane crash, they are forced to swap uniforms to survive.
Role reversal in comedy is a fine technique. If done right, not only does it exaggerate the contrasting differences between the two people involved, it can also subtly hint at some surprising similarities. So when you sit down to watch a black comedy about a Jewish prisoner swapping their outfit with that of a Nazi officer, you start to wonder whether any similarities between the two can occur. In this case, it was all used for comic affect, despite being based in a dark time.
My Best Enemy focuses around Victor Kaufmann, a Jewish Austrian whose father owns an art gallery in town. After a long period of leave, the friend of the family, Rudi Smekal, returns to welcome arms and a promise of a good future with no war whatsoever (this is in the late Thirties, remember). Meanwhile, Jakob, Victor’s father, has three copies of a very valuable work of art that, obviously, turns into a bit of a Macguffin later. One of the copies, however, is actually the original; you can almost see what’s going to happen later, can’t you? One thing I didn’t see coming, though, was for Rudi to reveal himself as a Nazi officer all this time. It was a horrible shock. Plus, he shaved off his nice moustache, which I was getting rather attached to.
As you can imagine, the war thunders on and the Kaufman family are taken away to the camps, but not before the Nazis attempt to get hold of the valuable artwork. Jump forward to 1943 and suddenly, Victor is needed when the Nazis discover they only have one of the copies and only his father knows. Unfortunately, Jakob has died in one of the camps, leaving the Nazi’s with nowhere else to turn, but his unwitting son. Rudi escorts Victor by plane when they are shot down by Polish partisans (try saying that quickly). Knowing that having Rudi dressed in his uniform would get them killed (as he knows no Polish), Victor suggests they trade clothes so that he can handle any situation that arises. Within moments, they are rescued by an escort of Nazi officers who mistake Victor, a Jew, to be a Nazi officer. My hands rubbed together with glee at this point.
So you can obviously guess what sort of situations they get into next. And you would be right in guessing that they are funny. It’s a black comedy with a few huge laughs, but even when the film isn’t trying to make you laugh, there is still a tight sense of tension as you wonder how soon it is until they realise Victor isn’t the person he says to be. This is helped by Rudi’s constant cries of protest about him being the real Nazi officer, all of which are reprimanded by a slap to the face by a nearby officer. It’s almost like his redemption for putting the uniform on in the first place. But despite the feeling of tension in a wartime setting, the atmosphere feels pretty jaunty and jolly for the majority of the movie. As well as some great moments of black comedy dialogue and unexpected twists in the story had me screaming at the screen in delighted surprise.
My Best Enemy is a very well put together movie with a well paced story and two very fine leading actors. The music keeps the tone very consistent throughout and it never goes too far into uncomfortable territory. The twists and laughs keep coming through and the final few seconds had me applauding from my seat. Possibly one of the best films I’ve seen all year.
My Best Enemy is released on DVD on September 12th.
Will Preston is a freelance writer from Portsmouth. He writes for various blogs (including his own website) and makes short films.
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