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How to Win Enemies is like a friend that can’t quite be trusted. Witty, busy, well-played and enjoyably twisty over its first hour, it inveigles its way into the affections but then suddenly lets you down in its final act. But long before then, the charms of this tidily-mounted domestic thriller about the struggles of an Argentinian lawyer to recoup his cash have made their mark, and you’re prepared to forgive.
Lichtmann’s debut Jews in Space was likewise about family tensions and likewise the plotline was triggered by a theft. But the similarities end there: Space was far more anarchic, and far funnier: the more clipped and controlled feel this time is generally to Enemies’ benefit, but it could have borrowed just a little of the earlier film’s spark to loosen things up a little: this feels like a Daniel Burman film that hasn’t been given enough room. That said, there’s still enough going on with rthe actors, the chemistry and the deft plotting to ensure that Enemies will make friends at home and as recent fest play at Chicago and elsewhere has shown, on the fest circuit as well.
Enemies opens with a snappy by deja vu wedding day scene for which most of what follows is background. The early scenes are satisfyingly busy as they get a family, a family business, and a plotline into place with the tidiness and efficiency which characterizes the project as a whole in place Lucas (Martin Slipak) is a dapper, fast-talking Buenos Aires lawyer who runs the business along with hunkier wild boy brother Max (Javier Drolas) and Max’s wife-to-be Paulina (Eugenia Capizzano).
It looks like it’s going to be a straight-up Jewish family comedy until Lucas is approached by an attractive, bookish blonde claiming to be called Barbara (Ines Palombo) at a bar and they hit it off: they both love Agatha Christie and the cult detective novel The American Friend, and Lucas’ dog is called Sherlock. (Yes, it’s all a bit too much.) But after a night of romance, Lucas awakens to find that the €50,000 he’s been saving for a new house has disappeared, and Barbara with it.
Being a fan of Highsmith and Christie, and not quite believing that Barbara can be guilty, Lucas goes in pursuit of the truth: suspects include company fixer The Pelican (a very watchable Sagrado Sebakis), receptionist Antonella (Paula Rodriguez), and a Wedding Planner (Charo Lopez), all of whom we’ve fleetingly met in those fizzy earlier scenes.
With deftness and agility, a great deal of lively dialogue, and much increasing paranoia on the part of Lucas, things move towards a climax which isn’t quite credible and a conclusion which, given what’s gone before, is disappointingly flat in its simple, moralizing reaffirmation of downhome family values. At just 78 minutes, this is a short movie and it ends too soon — both in the sense that it leaves you wanting more, but also in the sense that things wrap up too quickly and dissatisfyingly. There’s a whole lot more potential in the first part of the script than the second part knows how to exploit.
That said, Enemies is often delightful too. The comfortable, easy groove of the performances, always plausible and never over-emphatic, lend the project an attractively comfortable air: this is a believable family, and Slipak is particularly strong as the earnest but likeable Lucas, someone who finds the world an awkwardly frivolous place to be. The dialogues are quality, with a midway, quiet seduction scene in a library between Ana (Carla Quevedo) and Lucas a model of how these things should be done (though how lucky it is that the computer system in the library should not be working on that particular day).
Production companies: MC Producciones, Domenica Films, La Lechuza Cine Casa
Cast: Martin Slipak, Javier Drolas, Ines Palombo, Eugenia Capizzano, Gabriela Izcovich, Fabian Arenillas
Director: Gabriel Lichtmann
Screenwriters: Gabriel Lichtmann, Viviana Vexlir
Producer: Jose Oscar Salva
Director of photography: Diana Garay Vinas
Production designer: Yamila Fontan
Editor: Agustin Rolandelli
Composer: Diego Voloschin
Sales: Domenica Films
No rating, 78 minutes