Enemies: A Love Story

What’s amazing about Enemies, A Love Story is that it depicts a ridiculous situation without ridiculing the characters caught up in it. Ordinarily, a movie about a man who cheats on his mistress with not one but two wives would make all concerned stick figures of fun, a gimmick to spur a series of mechanical gags. But Enemies is a dazzling adaptation of a work by Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, whose stories have no gimmicks, only people. Ron Silver is the schlemiel-hero, a Jew saved from Nazi bloodhounds by a pleasant Polish peasant (Margaret Sophie Stein) who stashed him in her barn and smuggled him food. Now it’s 1949; he has married her out of passionless gratitude and they are living in New York. He knows he’s lucky to be alive, but the only time he feels that way is when he’s visiting his girlfriend (Lena Olin, in the year’s most incendiarily sexy performance). She’s a concentration-camp survivor, so haunted by death she’s forever desperate to lose herself in sex.

Ron Silver’s hapless shlepping from bed to bed is complicated by the arrival of Anjelica Huston as his first wife who — he thought — had vanished in the Holocaust. Huston is astoundingly good as the pilgrim back from the land of the dead. Her amusement at his plight — and at his sheer gall in coming to her for advice — is perfectly pitched. She’s bitter, sardonic, detached, yet still loving — just as a ghost might be. (Both Huston and Olin earned Oscar nominations.)

Fred Murphy’s cinematography casts a golden glow on the postwar world, an effect not at all dissipated on the home screen. Mazursky conjures not only a plausible vision of the past but a past as seen through the eyes of immigrants. (Since Stein is a Pole making her U.S. debut and Olin is a Swede — she made hers in 1988’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being — the effect is come by honestly.) Enemies is the best sex comedy in recent memory because it’s the saddest, and the truest.

Enemies: A Love Story
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