Enemies, a Love Story Reviews
Herman (Ron Silver) is a Holocaust survivor that is now living in Coney Island with his new wife Yadwiga (Margaret Sophie Stein). Instead of spending his days in a concentration camp though, Yadwiga sheltered him from the Nazis in her family's barn. Unfortunately Herman's wife and kids died.
You'd think that he would be thankful to already be loved and have a decent marriage, but no. Herman is in the meantime, having an affair with another Holocaust survivor, the moody Masha (Lena Olin). When he's spending time with her he tells Yadwiga that he's at work, yet he feels nervous in the streets. Things get a little bit nuttier when Masha gets pregnant and Herman feels that the right thing to do is marry her-- after all, his marriage to Yadwiga isn't completely legal.
But things get even worse when Herman's supposedly deceased wife Tamara (Anjelica Huston) comes out of nowhere and complicates things.
"Enemies, A Love Story" takes place in 1949, and while it does have great period sets and costumes, that isn't a big focus here. It focuses less on glamour and more on the aftermath of WWII on Jews. Not to suggest the film is completely humorless-- the script, for the most part, carries a quiet sense of wit with it, and towards the beginning of the film, the characters talk with an interesting tone that reminds one of Woody Allen.
It isn't necessarily laugh out loud funny, and it isn't meant to be a comedy. We're instead just taking a look at these damaged peoples' lives, and it's rather interesting.
Mazursky directs in a tone that feels claustrophobic and a bit like a play, but because this is more of a relationship film than anything, it works nearly perfectly. The screenplay is even better, while it is still a bit depressing. Towards the beginning, everyone feels a bit caricaturish, but the film slowly trudges along with growing pessimism. Mazursky is a great comedy director, but with this drama, it shows a different side to his talent.
The acting phenomenal as well, especially the two leading women, Olin and Huston.
Masha, characterized wonderfully by Olin, is intelligent and when calm, speaks without enthusiasm like Madeline Kahn in "Blazing Saddles"-- but when she's upset, her vulnerability comes to a point where we even question Masha's sanity. If her calm manner is fašade, why does she do it in the first place? She's a complicated character, but Olin manages to make us understand her somewhat.
Huston's portrayal is essential to the film, despite the fact it's downplayed towards the torrid relationship between Herman and Masha. Huston is the only sense of warmth in the entire film-- she walks with a sense of bravery, and acts tough, and when she's with with Herman you can see him spark up. You know Tamara is truly fragile inside, but is so compassionate that you can't help but really appreciate her.
"Enemies, A Love Story" isn't for everybody, but it often times shows talent that's timeless.
Some people's lives are their own faults. They may have something in their past to fall back on, some excuse as to why things just happened to them. Sometimes, the excuse may even explain some of what went wrong. However, when you look at the choices that person made even in the midst of spells of tranquility, they have inevitably made the choice which makes things worse. It may well be easier if they have some great tragedy in their past, because people will believe that. "I wouldn't be like this if X hadn't happened." In this case, the Holocaust. But we as the audience know that, without the Holocaust, the main character here would have ended up in some other miserable and untenable position. And we know it because the character who knows him best knows. She knows him better than he can know himself, because he won't let himself. If he tried to know himself, he'd have to admit that the problems in his life can't be blamed on the Nazis.
He is Herman Broder (Ron Silver). It is 1949, and he has immigrated to Coney Island from Poland, bringing with him his young wife, Yadwiga (Malgorzata Zajaczkowska, credited as Margaret Sophie Stein). She was his servant Before, and she and her family hid him in their hayloft from the Nazis. And when he climbed down out of the hay, it was to find that his wife and children were dead. He and Yadwiga moved to the United States to escape his past, but I don't think he feels quite escaped enough. So he cheats on her, the symbol of that past, with Masha (Lena Olin), a fragile and earthy survivor of Auschwitz. Her mother (Judith Malina) shows him a personal ad someone has taken out looking for him, and it is from Tamara (Anjelica Huston)--his first wife, who turns out not to be so dead as all that. She finds out that he has married Yadwiga and immediately intuits the existence of Masha. Masha knows about Yadwiga but won't believe him when he tells her Tamara is still alive. And Yadwiga, he doesn't even tell.
What grated on me was that they kept referring to Yadwiga as a peasant. It's true that she was a servant in Poland. That her family had a hayloft to hide a Jew in. But you know, they harp almost more on the fact that she was a peasant than that she was a Gentile. She wants very much to convert and marry Herman in the Jewish faith. She wants to bear him children. This is, after all, a kind of miracle, for all Herman's boss, Rabbi Lembeck (Alan King), things mixed marriages are the curse of the Jews. But maybe if she will convert, it will be not so bad. It's certainly true that Yadwiga isn't as cosmopolitan as Tamara, as independent and intelligent as Tamara and Masha both. She is still acting like Herman's servant, and she probably still feels as though she has to. But I can't help wondering how much of that is everyone talking down to her all the time and not giving her a chance to become who she has the potential to be. I don't think Yadwiga is actually stupid, just ignorant, and everyone seems to treat her as though they're the same thing.
I think Herman would be better off with Tamara than with the other two, but I think Tamara deserves better. He needs someone who can control him, head off his wild impulses. In perhaps the best shot of the movie, Herman stands in front of a sign at the station with three arrows, one pointing to Brooklyn; one, the Bronx; and one, Manhattan. Each arrow indicates a different woman to him, and he cannot choose among them. When he goes to Tamara, it is because everything makes sense with her. Masha probably wasn't in the best emotional state before the war, and her experiences have only scarred her worse. She clings to Herman, but Herman is not a strong foundation. Yadwiga will let Herman do whatever he wants to, because she isn't strong enough nor experienced enough to make him stop. Tamara tells him that he needs a manager, that she will be that manager. If he'd listened to her, it would have worked. But it would have tied him to her in ways she didn't deserve.
No two of the four main characters got through the war the same way, for all it may appear that Herman and Yadwiga did. However, he was in the hayloft and she was in the world. Masha was in the camps. Tamara crawled out of her own grave, probably the one her children were in as well, and hid in the woods until the war was over. I don't think it made any of the four who they were, but I think it could be seen as a decent parallel for their personality types. The camps happened to Masha as life did. Every day was lived in the shadow of Death, and every day, you had to choose if you were going to keep fighting. Tamara made the choice, and while she lived with the consequences, she always bore the mark. She struck out on her own. Yadwiga took care of Herman. Probably her family, too. Lived in the awareness that things were not as they once were and that there was something wrong about that. And Herman? Herman hid and let Yadwiga take care of him.
A very well-acted and interesting film.
This is the second Isaac Bashevis Singer book I've read. The first was The Penitent and what a wonderful book. I'm not Jewish but I can really relate to the push and pull of religion versus the realities of life.