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L’Ennemi — Young Critics Workshop

L'Ennemi (Stephan Streker, 2020)

Pitched less as a whodunnit and more a quizzical have-I-dunnit, L’Ennemi is hamstrung by its primary riddle. The main character’s culpability is never fully revealed, which insinuates a meditation on the nature of blame and innocence, but the reverberating refrain “all men are guilty” is not complemented by a supposed study of psychic introspection. Nor is there much sense of dramatic irony. Instead, shaky, proximate handheld camerawork signifies delirious mental states and streams of shallow focus render the background of any given shot almost irrelevant. The film is beset with myopia.

Louis Durieux (Jérémie Renier, receding pit-bull) is a charismatic parliamentarian accused of murdering his wife (Alma Jodorowsky, diaphanous rumour) in a plush Ostend hotel room. Wry glances from the staff indicate Louis’ local name recognition before the alleged act, and the narrative traces his imprisonment, legal defence and the subsequent public fallout. Much of the dialogue and plot is bafflingly predicated on the lingual differences between Dutch and Francophone speakers.

Writer-director Stephan Streker doubles down on national specificities to varying effect while proselytizing on universal political hypocrisies and the dubious merits of contemporary media. Louis’ status has a dual function: it affords him special legal leverage and keeps his case in public view. Streker employs overheard radio and TV news reports of the proceedings as leaden exposition. James Ensor’s masks, particular to Ostend, recur in blatant imagery to suggest the modern subject as true to no one, least of all himself. Such self-serious gestures of profundity are speckled throughout.