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Enemies, a Love Story celebrates triumph go human spirit


Directed by Paul Mazursky.

Starring Ron Silver, Anjelica

Huston, and Lena Olin.

Now playing at the Nickelodeon.


PAUL MAZURSKY'S WONDERFUL new film, Enemies, A Love Story, is a textured examination of healing. In the richly detailed interactions of its four main characters, Enemies captures the chaotic tumble of human emotions shattered by wholesale death, pummeled by the burden of faith, and renewed by the death-denying persistence of human sexuality.

Based on the novel by Isaac Bashevis Singer, Enemies traces the exploits of Herman Broder (Ron Silver), a Holocaust survivor who lives in Coney Island, New York in 1949 with his second wife Yadwiga (Margaret Sophie Stein). Nervous and guilt-ridden, Herman is haunted by nightmares because he managed to survive the Nazis while his first wife Tamara (Angelica Huston) and their two children died in concentration camps. He makes a living writing speeches with names like "Mixed Marriages: The Plague of the Jews" for a wheeler-dealer Central Park West rabbi.

His marriage to Yadwiga, his family's servant before the Nazi invasion of Poland, is a loveless act of gratitude to the woman who sheltered him in her barn during the end of the war. Yadwiga, simple-minded and fiercely loyal, can understand neither the source of Herman's suffering nor his intractable disdain for the future. Embittered and lonely, Herman finds himself at odds with the optimism of post-war America.

In search of solace, he turns to Masha (Lena Olin), a beautiful Holocaust survivor who proudly displays her camp identification number and irreverently mocks the ideals she held before the war. "God doesn't care," she says in bleak triumph. Masha uses her considerable wit to enliven her relationship with Herman and to spar with her mother, but her laughter is always frantic, tinged with regret and bitterness. Her desperate bouts of sex with Herman help them both to forget the past that haunts them and to delay the challenge of the future which awaits them.

When a mysterious ad appears in the newspaper for Herman asking him to meet the uncle of his first wife, he is shocked to discover that Tamara is alive after all -- with two bullets in her hip, she crawled out of an open grave in a rainstorm and fled to Russia. Overburdened with three women, Herman cannot decide what to do, so he does nothing except struggle to keep up the pretense of each of his three lives. When both Masha and Yadwiga announce that they are pregnant, his romantic farce comes to a hectic, honest crisis.

It is here that Mazursky -- with gentle humor and insight -- explores the role of sex as a life-line. Like Singer, Mazursky is unjudgmental about sex. Even when it is merely desperate, it is seen as a welcome assertion of the life force in the face of the overwhelming death that has weighed on, but not yet crushed, these characters. Hammered into immobility by his wartime trauma, Herman cannot settle in one place with one woman. Nevertheless, his sexual encounters with Yadwiga, Masha, and Tamara represent the fighting resiliency of his spirit. The birth of Yadwiga's child demonstrates the ultimate promise of human sexuality to create another generation to replace the one taken by hatred and cruelty.

Enemies derives much of its power from its cast. Silver, who won last year's best actor Tony for Speed-the-Plow, gives the film its moral center. His Herman is fully realized -- his pain, his weaknesses, and his fears drive the film, often pushing it from funny to tragic and back again in the same scene. Huston, Olin, and Stein are incandescent as the three women in Herman's life. Olin in particular is riveting in her portrayal of the unstable Masha. Alan King, who plays Herman's boss, Rabbi Lembeck, is hilarious and the perfect foil for Herman's indecisive nature. Mazursky, who makes an appearance in the film as Masha's first husband, is both appropriately petty and wise.

Enemies is an unusually complex film, heart-breaking and funny. In bringing the vitality of Singer's novel to the screen, Mazursky has created a film which celebrates the ability of the human spirit to rage and endure and overcome even the greatest of tragedies.