Review: The Enemy
- Stephan Streker places viewers in the position of the jury and urges us to question our inner convictions
In his latest feature film The Enemy [+see also:
interview: Stephan Streker
film profile], which opened Film Fest Gent’s Official Competition, Stephan Streker probes the depths of the human soul, both that of his lead character and, first and foremost, that of the viewing public.
The Enemy opens with a love song, sung by Maeva. She and Louis are madly and passionately in love, in fact, perhaps too madly. One night, Louis finds Maeva’s lifeless body in their Ostend hotel room. He runs to the receptionist, who calls the police, at which point Louis is brought to the police station. But our Louis isn’t just anyone here in Ostend, he’s one of the most highly reputed, political, young men in Belgium, an ambitious "enfant terrible" and a verbal assassin.
His time in police custody turns sour when he refuses to relinquish his parliamentary immunity and fails to communicate with the officers involved, who don’t speak the same language as him. Louis Durieux is imprisoned, suspected of murdering his wife. But what actually took place in room 108?
Or maybe that’s not the right question. This film isn’t the story of a femicide or of an innocent pilloried by trial by media. Streker leaves it to others to tell these stories. The question here is actually: what do you think happened in room 108? On this point, the film is careful not to offer any answers.
The Enemy is based upon a real event which rocked Belgium several years ago, upon which every Belgian citizen seemed to nurse their own opinion. It’s the substratum of the affair that Stephan Streker thus explores, provoking reflection upon the source of our inner convictions and the way in which a private drama can find itself transformed as a result of the public and media interest reserved for politicians’ affairs.
Louis Durieux’s life turns into a living nightmare the very second that the public gets wind of the situation. He himself becomes a puppet, an actor in spite of himself, in a masquerade which plays out across various scenes: in the police station, in prison, in court and within the family.
What lies behind his mask? Do we ever really know who other people are, the filmmaker seems to ask us, and do we ever really know ourselves? Durieux’s guilt (or lack thereof) is always evoked through others’ reactions to him, through their opinion of him. There’s only one moment where the latter expresses himself directly on this subject: "Even if I didn’t do anything in that room, I’m still not sure it makes me innocent ". Whatever the outcome, he’s responsible and guilty.
Masks, moreover, are central to the film’s crucial scenes, magnifying the vertiginous ontological uncertainty at the heart of the human condition and reminding us that in this human comedy that is existence, we project our fantasies onto others without actually knowing them.
"Conviction beyond a reasonable doubt says more about those who are judging than the person being judged", concludes one of the film’s characters. In the role of Louis, Renier is majestic, the unfathomable repository of everyone’s doubts. He moves forward masked, in all senses of the word, reminding viewers of their own guilt in the field of moral judgement.
(Translated from French)
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