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‘Enemies, A Love Story’

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 19, 1990


Paul Mazursky
Ron Silver;
Anjelica Huston;
Lena Olin;
Margaret Sophie Stein;
Alan King;
Paul Mazursky
Under 17 restricted

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"Enemies, A Love Story" doesn't ask a lot, just that you be in the mood for lighthearted, ethnic farce because, if you're ready, Paul Mazursky has a delicately involving experience for you.

Adapting Isaac Bashevis Singer's 1972 novel and mercifully reining in the broad impulses that rode all over Mazursky's work in the '80s (which included "Moon Over Parador," "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," "Moscow on the Hudson" and "Willie and Phil"), director Mazursky has created a comedy of mannas that's quietly faithful to the book -- at least, to its farce-like plot and sensuality. Cinematographer Fred Murphy makes the images warm and sentimental -- this is postwar New York, freedom citadel for Jewish immigrants -- and Maurice Jarre's klezmer-influenced (and strategically inserted) score provides a lilting undertone.

If Mazursky and company give "Enemies" its lightly pleasing surface, actor Ron Silver provides a desperate, harried vitality underneath. As Herman Broder, the beleaguered Polish-Jewish immigrant who, through unfortunate circumstances and supreme indecision, finds himself married to three women and unable to choose among them, he's perfectly cast. Late in the movie, when everything in Silver's life comes crashing down at the same time and the phone rings, the expression on his face is indescribably eloquent. He seems to have found a perfect comic niche located somewhere between Alan Arkin and Buster Keaton.

Believing his first wife (Anjelica Huston) to be dead, Broder has felt obliged to marry gentile peasant Yadwiga (Margaret Sophie Stein) who sheltered him from the Nazis in Poland. Now living with Yadwiga in Coney Island, Broder's having an affair with Holocaust survivor Masha (played by sultry Lena Olin, who displayed her lissome abilities in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being"), while pretending to be a traveling book salesman. When Broder's first wife returns, all hell breaks loose.

Well, maybe not all hell. In Singer's thoroughly enjoyable saga of lost New World Jews, there is an atmospheric element that seems to be missing here -- a feeling for that dank netherworld between the dead and the living, experienced by death-camp survivors trying to live in America. Certainly, Mazursky provides flashes of this: Silver experiences vivid flashbacks from his refugee past and Anjelica Huston has an appropriately ashen, morbid quality as the wife returned from the dead. But the novel, it seems to me, provides the stronger intercutting of modern-world polygamy and Old World tragedy. Perhaps that's what books are for.

What's most important for Mazursky, though, is that he's drawn enough from the book to give "Enemies" warm appeal and his career a much needed, subtle boost.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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