Stephan Streker’s The Enemy (L’ennemi) is an intriguing exploration of guilt and bias underneath the story of a politician and his dead wife.
“When you judge another, you do not define them, you define yourself.” The words of American author and motivational speaker Wayne Dyer are not directly referenced in Stephan Streker’s The Enemy (L’ennemi in French), but they do symbolise the sentiment throughout. Ostensibly a film about a politician accused of murdering his wife, ‘freely inspired by true events’, it is in actuality a rumination on guilt, biases, innocence and judgement: of others and ourselves.
Louis Durieux (Jérémie Renier) is a passionate politician. Outspoken, highly reputed and ambitious, he’s described as the ‘enfant terrible’ of politics. He also has a passionate, tumultuous relationship with his wife Maeve (Alma Jodorowsky), with the pair’s fighting as intense as their making-up. After a night of heavy drinking, Louis stumbles down to the reception of their hotel and asks that the police be called because, apparently, Maeve has committed suicide. Once the media catches wind of the tragedy, Louis’ arrest and pending murder trial becomes a swirling storm of scrutiny and speculation, with audiences encouraged to make their own assumptions.
Streker is not interested in the gritty details of a lovers’ tiff or a courtroom drama. Instead, The Enemy remains at a distance, giving the audience slight variations of the night in question and no definitive answers throughout the film. It’s a device that emphasises the film’s central idea that our judgement of others says more about ourselves than them; that the court of public opinion is often a lot more divisive than the court of law. Streker is encouraging individual opinion by refusing to show definitively what happened. The sequence of events varies depending on how it is being communicated: CCTV footage, Louis’ nightmares, a judge’s description, a fellow inmate’s hypothesis, a news report. There’s an inherent bias present in almost every angle, and Streker simply presents them and allows the audience to make up their own mind. Is Louis guilty or innocent? Was Maeve murdered or did she take her own life? The film is not concerned with answering such questions, and instead more concerned with the manner in which one might come to any given conclusion.
Renier is so magnetic as Louis, a protagonist that offers almost nothing in the way of personal emotion. There’s a subtle shift in his demeanour dependent on whoever he’s with, be it his lawyer, his cellmate, his son, a stranger or his wife. It’s difficult to ever pinpoint Louis’ feelings based on Renier’s performance, because there’s consistently an element of him wearing a mask – literally, at one point. But rather than feeling cold or off-putting, it’s intriguing and fits so well within the context of the story Streker is trying to tell. The supporting cast of Jodorowsky, Emmanuelle Bercot (as his lawyer Béatrice), Félix Maritaud (as his cellmate Pablo) and Zacharie Chasseriaud (as his son Julien) really allow Renier to explore the various aspects of Louis’ personality, whilst simultaneously acting as a mere means for the audience to reach their own individual verdicts.
The Enemy is doing so much thematically, with a tight script, by Streker himself, and gorgeous cinematography from Léo Lefèvre. The end result is a really clever, layered piece of filmmaking, symbolic of the idea that we judge others based on our judgements of ourselves, but also just really engaging as a piece of (almost) fiction.
The Enemy (L’ennemi) will be screened at the French Film Festival @ Home from Sunday 12 December, 2021.