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The Thieving Reich

'My Best Enemy' glued together by Moritz Bleibtreu

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LOVE TRIANGLE Moritz Bleibtreu, Georg Friedrich and Ursula Strauss (L-R).
  • LOVE TRIANGLE Moritz Bleibtreu, Georg Friedrich and Ursula Strauss (L-R).

At the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival, My Best Enemy stars the most interesting leading actor in Germany: Moritz Bleibtreu as Victor, a Jewish prince and Viennese gallery-owner's son.

The family is facing uncertain times. It's a few weeks before the Anschluss, the absorbing of Austria into Hitler's Reich. Victor's pal from childhood, practically a cadet member of the family, is Rudi (Georg Friedrich) the housekeeper's son. After a night of drinking, Victor lets this old friend know about a secret: the family has, concealed, an original Michelangelo drawing sold by the Vatican centuries before. Mussolini has learned of it, and would like the drawing as a present from the Fuhrer.

Director Wolfgang Murnberger makes a hard-edged comedy of what comes next. Rudi turns out to be an officer in the SS, but he isn't able to keep his uniform throughout the film, and this is a wartime milieu when clothes very much make the man. The Nazis' ardor for valuable art undercuts their qualities of dread, and reveals them as the common, greedy thieves they were. So Murnberger does get the snickers he's looking for. The bit about a protocol meeting, regarding who gets greeted first at a confab between Der Fuhrer and Il Duce, is nicely like the barber-chair war in The Great Dictator. ("Heil Hitler" can be a very funny line, given the inflections an actor can give it.) Praiseworthy casting of the woman who intermediates between the hapless Nazi Rudi and his suave prey Victor: Ursula Strauss may bear the name of that composer, but she looks like a Dvorak, Ann Dvorak, slender, dark-eyed and refreshingly droll.

To paraphrase that astute movie critic Josef Goebbels, My Best Enemy is built like a convoy: it tries to keep up with the slowest vessel in the audience with some heavy-handed slapstick (underscored by Matthias Weber's too-obvious soundtrack) and a too-broad clue of where the hidden Michelangelo is concealed. Bliebtreu, though, is compulsively watchable, and keeps this wobbly film together.

'My Best Enemy' screens Thursday, Nov. 14, as part of the Sonoma County Jewish Film Festival at Rialto Cinemas. 6868 McKinley St., Sebastopol. 1pm and 7:30pm. $10-$12. 707.528.4222.

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