Enemies, A Love Story, from 1989, takes place in New York City in the late Forties. Three survivors of the Nazis end up married to a fourth survivor, Herman—a Jewish ghostwriter for a rabbi—at the same time (!) Haunted by Nazi hostility, Herman is the husband of Yadwiga, a good-hearted Gentile intent on becoming a religious Jew. But the man has a mistress, the married and Jewish Masha who, after being granted a divorce, persuades Herman to wed her in a legitimate religious ceremony instead of the insubstantial civil ceremony in which he wed Yadwiga. Then there is Herman’s dead wife, Tamara, who is not dead after all: she managed to escape from a German concentration camp and now returns to her husband, bedding him (once) but not wanting him. They do not go back to living together.
Herman is a genocide survivor taking refuge in women and fornication. And he is choosing irresponsibility. Meant, perhaps, to be neither a wife nor a mother, Masha suffers. Assuredly she should not be with Herman, and the despair she meets is something the devilish Nazis would have seen as her proper lot in life. The genuine Jewish survivor seems to be Tamara.
I have reservations about this film written by Roger L. Simon and Paul Mazursky, based on an I.B. Singer novel, and directed by Mazursky. There seems to be little force of will in Herman, and although he cannot live without her, it is surely unlikely that he would “marry” Masha. Even so, Enemies is riveting and affecting—and with nicely transporting production design and costumes. Ron Silver is merely ordinary, too ordinary, as Herman. He has none of the magnetism or charm of Lena Olin (Masha) or Margaret Sophie Stein (Yadwiga). Angelica Huston (Tamara) is beguiling in her poise. And Judith Malina is fine, too, as Masha’s mother.
So far I have seen only three of Mazursky’s films. I’d have to say that on the strength of An Unmarried Woman and this deeply sad comic tragedy he is an estimable film artist.