The central theme of the Austrian movie My Best Enemy – Mein bester Feind is art robbery and expropriation of Jews during WWII. It starts in 1943 with a plane crash. Two SS officers and a Jew are on board of that plane. They must be found. Especially the Jew. We don’t know why but the movie rewinds to the year 1938 and the back story will be told.
Vienna, 1938. The rich Jewish gallery owner Jakob Kaufmann just recently arrived with his family in Vienna. They have left Germany, fearing Hitler’s rise may bring difficulties. The Kaufmann’s have only one child, Victor (Moritz Bleibtreu), who grew up together with Rudi (Georg Friedrich), the son of their housekeeper. For the Kaufmann’s Rudi is like a son and the two young men are close friends. At least that’s how Victor sees it. Rudi’s point of view is slightly different. He is bitter and jealous and resents all the good things the Kaufmann’s did for him. Fact is, they are rich and he is poor. Victor will be a rich heir, while he will have to work hard. On top of that Lena, the girl Rudi fancies, is in love with Victor.
When the SS give him the opportunity to lead a better life, he takes it and joins them. He doesn’t even care that the price is high. He will have to spy on his former friends and benefactors and find out where one of Michelangelo’s original drawings is hidden. The drawing which has been stolen centuries ago from the Pope, is meant for the Führer Adolf Hitler who wants to offer it to his ally Mussolini.
It is easy for Rudi to find out where the painting is as Victor trusts his friend. Not long after he showed him where it is hidden, the villa is stormed, the drawing confiscated and the Kaufmann’s sent to labour camps.
If the drawing they have confiscated had been the original, the movie would have ended here but as it is a fake, this is just the beginning. Rudi is threatened and has to try to find the original at any cost. He goes and fetches Victor in the labour camp and together they fly to Berlin. On their way their plane crashes.
What follows is more humorous than dramatic and the roles of the parties involved are reversed more than once. Hunter becomes hunted and vice versa. Every time when we think: that’s it, this is the end, something happens and the hunt and qui pro quo starts again.
I didn’t know anything about this movie but I like Moritz Bleibtreu and Marthe Keller (she plays Victor’s mother) and I knew the producers of The Counterfeiters have produced this movie too. I expected something more tragic so was slightly puzzled at first. This isn’t a drama, it’s much more a comedy. While it isn’t hilarious, it is amusing and I enjoyed watching it, especially the end. This is surprising as from a purely psychological point of view it isn’t very believable. Rudi’s change from friend to foe is more than abrupt. And as much as I like Bleibtreu, he is rather on the chubby side and most certainly doesn’t look like someone who spent years in a labour camp.
I’m not sure how Jewish people feel about a movie like this. Is it OK for them to see their trials and tribulations – in this case expropriation and art robbery by the Nazis – told in form of a comedy? I cannot answer this question. There were a few moments at the beginning of the movie when I felt uneasy but on the other hand, using this lighthearted tone, the movie gets our full attention and it is still explicit about the horrible things that happened.
I have a hard time to put into words why I liked My Best Enemy but I really did. It’s well done, glossy, entertaining, with a nice pace and a really appealing energy. If they had told this story like all the other similar movies it would have been just one more Holocaust movie. Like this it’s a movie that will stay in your mind.