Review: ‘A Perfect Enemy,’ starring Tomasz Kot, Marta Nieto and Athena Strates

July 16, 2021

by Carla Hay

Tomasz Kot and Athena Strates in “A Perfect Enemy” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“A Perfect Enemy”

Directed by Kike Maíllo

Some language in French with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place mostly in Paris, the dramatic film “A Perfect Enemy” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: While on a business trip in Paris, a famous Polish architect becomes acquainted with a mysterious young woman, who ends up stalking him and telling him disturbing things while they’re waiting for a plane flight at an airport.

Culture Audience: “A Perfect Enemy” will appeal primarily to people who like psychological thrillers and are willing to overlook some bad acting and overly talkative screenplays with a lot of scenes that don’t really go anywhere.

Marta Nieto in “A Perfect Enemy” (Photo courtesy of Brainstorm Media)

“A Perfect Enemy” keeps a certain level of suspense, but too much of this psychological thriller is undone by subpar acting, dialogue that rambles and a sluggish pace during the middle of the movie. The movie’s ending is a big disappointment. Viewers will be kept guessing over the real identity of a young female provocateur who latches on to a famous male architect, who’s more than twice her age, and she refuses to leave him alone. The two of them spend most of the movie waiting for a flight at an airport. Yawn.

In other words, don’t expect there to be a lot of action in this movie, since much of the film consists of conversations in the airport. Any expectations of “A Perfect Enemy” being a heart-pounding, mind-bending “cat and mouse” chase will come to a screeching halt when viewers have to sit through numerous scenes of the young stalker telling her prey some disturbing but mostly boring flashback stories.

Directed by Kike Maíllo, “A Perfect Enemy” might turn off some viewers from the beginning, because of the movie’s opening scene, which has some very wooden acting from Tomasz Kot. He portrays “A Perfect Enemy” protagonist Jeremiasz Angust, a famous architect in his 40s, who’s originally from Warsaw, Poland. In this scene, Jeremiasz is doing a speaking appearance at an unnamed conference in Paris. Watching this scene is almost painful, because Kot’s speech patterns are so stilted and awkward.

In the speech, Jeremiasz says that early on his career, he was obsessed with designing beautiful buildings. But about 20 years ago, Jeremiasz says that he went through a “crisis” that made him re-think the meaning of his work. “The uncomfortable truth is,” Jeremiasz adds, “what we call architecture, it’s really the business of designing for the wealthiest 1% of the population. It’s not only wrong, in terms of social justice, it’s also a clumsy business strategy.”

Jeremiasz continues by saying that when he had this socially conscious epiphany, he changed his priorities in architecture. Instead of serving the wealthiest “one percenters,” he decided to serve the underprivileged. For example, he traveled to Rwanda to build hospitals. Jeremiasz comments, “I truly believe that great architecture can heal, as long as it’s focused on what’s truly essential and forgets everything else.”

Jeremiasz’s speech is well-received; he gets enthusiastic applause from the audience. Outside in the lobby area, as he’s about to leave, he has fans waiting for him, and they ask for his autograph and request photos with him. He willingly obliges and seems to appreciate the admiration. But Jeremiasz can’t stay and mingle with his fans for long because he’s got a plane to catch out of Paris, and his service car with a driver is waiting for him.

On the way to the airport, it’s pouring rain and there’s a traffic jam. While stuck in traffic, a woman in her early 20s who’s on a nearby sidewalk gets Jeremiasz’s attention and asks him if he’s going to the airport because she’d like to share his ride. She explains that she’s very close to missing her plane flight. She desperately needs a ride because she’s been trying in vain for several minutes to find an available taxi.

Jeremiasz says he’s going to the airport too, but he hesitates to let this stranger in the car. When she turns away in a defeated manner and says, “Forget it,” Jeremiasz feels sorry for her and tells her that she can share the ride with him to the airport. Her demeanor changes from dejected to grateful, and she thanks him profusely.

Who is this woman? She has an unusual name: Texel Textor (played by Athena Strates), and she says she’s Dutch. In fact, every time she talks to someone new, she introduces herself using the exact same words and always mentions that she’s Dutch. It’s almost like she’s programmed to introduce herself in this way, but (this isn’t spoiler information) Texel is not a robot.

Texel and Jeremiasz make small talk in the back of the car. She’s very chatty, and she seems to be an upbeat free spirit. Texel is also very observant, because she immediately notices Jeremiasz’s name and address on his luggage. He tells her that he’s an architect and that he’s in Paris on business. Texel shows the first sign that she’s going to ruin Jeremiasz’s trip when, a few minutes after getting into the car, she says that she left a piece of her luggage out on the sidewalk where she had been trying to hail a taxi.

Going back to retrieve the luggage, especially in this traffic jam, means that Jeremiasz will definitely miss his flight. Jeremiasz asks her if she can find another ride to go back for her luggage. Texel gets a little snippy by saying that she already spent too much time trying to hail a taxi before, and she doesn’t think the lack of available taxis will change now. And so, Jeremiasz tells his driver to turn around so Texel can get her luggage. Luckily, the luggage is still right where she left it.

By the time they get to the airport, Jeremiasz is slightly irritated that he missed his flight, but he seems to be relieved to not have to see Texel again, as they say goodbye and go their separate ways. After he rebooks to be on the next available flight, which will take off in about two hours, Jeremiasz settles into the VIP lounge to relax and listen to whatever he’s listening to on his headphones.

It should come as no surprise that Texel shows up in the lounge and makes her way to Jeremiasz, who is surprised to see her there. And what do you know, she’s waiting for the exact same flight. Is this a weird coincidence or something else? There would be no “A Perfect Enemy” if it were just a weird coincidence.

Texel strikes up another conversation with Jeremiasz, but she can’t take the hint that he doesn’t want her to bother him. When he tells her that he just wants to spend some time by himself, she acts insulted. Texel won’t go away, and her attitude changes from friendly to bizarre and menacing.

For example, at one point, Texel says to Jeremiasz, “Have you ever killed anyone? I killed someone when I was little.” And in another part of the conversation, she says she knows about an “inner enemy” who’s “a thousand times more powerful than a wimp like God.” Jeremiasz tells her that he’s an atheist.

In case it isn’t clear by now, Texel’s “damsel in distress” persona was all an act. And, for a reason that’s revealed in the last third of the movie, she wants to have Jeremiasz’s full attention. And so, for the majority of the movie, it’s about Texel saying things that will annoy or shock Jeremiasz. But they’re sitting in an airport lounge while she does much of the talking, so there’s very little “terror” that can happen in this setting.

Jeremiasz is growing increasingly uncomfortable being in the presence of Texel. But she says something that intrigues him and makes him curious enough to continue listening to her unhinged ramblings. Texel says she’s going to tell Jeremiasz a three-part story. According to Texel’s description of the story, the first part is “disgusting,” the second part is “scary,” and the third part is “filled with love.” The storytelling is told in flashbacks.

In the first part of the story, Texel talks about her childhood and growing up in a household with an abusive stepfather (played by Götz Vogel von Vogelstein) and an uncaring mother. Texel goes into detail about the nauseating food slop that her mother and stepfather made her prepare for the animals on their farm. And you know what that means: There’s going to be a scene of Texel eating that slop too.

The airport where Jeremiasz and Texel are just happens to be an airport that Jeremiasz co-designed in 2002 with two other architects. There are model replicas of the airport in the airport’s main entrance and in the VIP lounge. When Jeremiasz tells Texel that he co-designed this airport, she seems impressed, but she’s much more impressed with what she has to tell Jeremiasz.

There are clues that something is very wrong in this airport, because every time Jeremiasz looks at this model replica, he sees red stains that look like blood on the outside entrance of the model replica. The stains grow larger as the movie continues. One of the more effectively eerie aspects of “A Perfect Enemy” is how this model replica has miniature human figurines that look like Jeremiasz and Texel and posed to re-enact a scene that was just shown in the movie. The mini-figurines are also dressed exactly like how Jeremiasz and Texel are dressed.

“A Perfect Enemy” wants to keep viewers wondering what Texel really wants from Jeremiasz and if her stories are really true. However, by making Texel and Jeremiasz “stuck” together in the same limited space in an airport for most of the movie, it actually makes “A Perfect Enemy” duller than it should be. The movie’s screenplay, which is based on Amélie Nothomb’s 2001 novel of the same name, was adapted by “A Perfect Enemy” director Maíllo, Cristina Clemente and Fernando Navarrro. Judging by the way this movie’s mystery was mishandled in the screenplay, viewers can see too early that something is “off-kilter” when an architect who designed the airport doesn’t go somewhere in the airport to hide from this stalker, who seems to have come out of nowhere.

Strates sometimes goes too over-the-top and too campy in playing this obviously demented person. It makes for an awkward match with Kot’s almost-robotic acting style. In other words, better actors would have made this movie more enjoyable. One cast member whose acting isn’t a detriment to the movie is Marta Nieto, who convincingly portrays a troubled woman named Isabelle, who has at least one big secret. Isabelle’s story is a major plot development that won’t be revealed in this review, but it’s eventually revealed in the movie. Unfortunately, Nieto doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as Kot and Strates, who both drag the movie down with their sometimes amateurish acting.

Strates demonstrates better acting skills than Kot does. He doesn’t have the actor charisma that’s necessary for viewers to emotionally connect with this film’s main character, in order for the ending to have more of an impact than it does. In the last 15 minutes of the film, Jeremiasz has some big, dramatic moments. But by then, viewers won’t care about Jeremiasz because he didn’t show much personality for most of the movie. And that’s ultimately a flaw that’s too big for “A Perfect Enemy” to overcome. A movie’s protagonist should keep viewers interested, not be so dull that viewers will want to stop watching the movie before it’s over.

Brainstorm Media released “A Perfect Enemy” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 11, 2021.