Movie Review: Mi Mejor Enemigo (My Best Enemy)

I am a movie junkie and I have a huge NetFlix queue. I love to watch movies as I appreciate them as an art form. I imagine if I had any exposure to a movie camera as a boy I would have pursued a career in film making, likely as a cinematographer. I have no desire to act or direct or anything like that, but I love seeing life, light, and space through a lens. I can watch a movie in any language and appreciate it for what is on the screen. My NetFlix queue started out several years ago as this huge “gotta see everything ever made” pile of eccentricities and is now down to “only” a few hundred films.

When Christopher was in Chile (two years ago now… amazing how time flies) I threw some examples of Chilean cinema into the queue. Machuca is one I actually watched while Chris was in Chile, and I found it a wonderful view of astounding historical events from a perspective that provides a unique vision: that of a child. I highly recommend seeing it. I did not know of Mi Mejor Enemigo until I saw it mentioned in Wayne Bernhardson’s blog in a post last month. I tossed into my queue and set it to a place that would coincide with Christopher’s Spring Break home from College. I watched it the other night and found it to be a very nice movie. VERY well photographed, and a good story. I had to resort to subtitles, as my Spanish stops at “Dos grandes cerveças por favor.” The tragicomic story takes place in the midst of the Beagle Conflict which occurred at the end of 1978, where Argentina was preparing to invade Chile over a border dispute concerning 3 islands at the southern tip of the continent. Rather than focus on the broader conflict, this movie revolves around 12 men, two squads of 6, from either nation, essentially lost in the featureless plains of southern Patagonia. Each is lead by a practical Sergeant, and filled with semi-stereotypical soldiers. The shy & sensitive city kid pining for his girl; the hard-core soldier ready to die for his country; the country bumpkin – in this case a more indigenous, less-European looking fisherman from Chiloe. While stereotypical in nature, the characters are not caricatures however and each is very believable and sympathetic. Through accident, and the sheer expansive and featureless space they occupy the Chilean squad has no real idea of their location, but somehow find themselves in a trench opposite a squad of Argentines. A unique aspect here is that unlike many international conflicts the soldiers share a common language, and are able to relate to each other. First they trade tea for cigarettes, using a sheep dog to run between their trenches. They then come together to assist an injured soldier. Food is shared, along with water, though the dog is lost in the process (I won’t share how though.) This escalates into football matches, and settles into an easy truce after they establish, through mutual agreement a “border” between them. (Something the two countries themselves did with the mediation of the Pope at the same time.) While neither is the “main character” the two Sergeants, wonderfully played by Erto Pantoja (Chile) and Miguel Dedovich (Argentina) are really what hold this movie together. They represent the practical and reasonable while the emotional and unreasonable soldiers they lead, and countries they represent ride a seesaw. There is all sorts of subtle humor here, as well as pathos. I imagine for those who fully understand the language and cultures involved there is even more.

I haven’t had a chance to confer with Christopher about the movie yet (he’s spent the majority of his Spring Break borrowing my car and visiting friends he has not seen since summer!) to see how well it dovetails with his experiences with Chileans. I did note a character referring to all of the Chileans as “northerners” despite every one of them being from places in what I would consider southern or central Chile. Christopher’s time in Chile was indeed spent in northern Chile, a place the Chilean’s call “the little North” as it is situated in the southern half of the Atacama desert, specifically the town of Copiapo. Of course given Chile’s unique geography and extreme length the characters may have been using the term “northern” in a relativistic way, since they were so far from anything really feeling like home. An analogy for an American would be one of our soldiers standing on Adak calling somebody from Idaho as being “from the south”, since in that context they’d be right.

Here is the movie’s trailer (sans subtites) from YouTube. If your Spanish is up to snuff you can watch the entire movie (in 11 parts) on YouTube. If you are like me and can’t comprende Español, or prefer to watch the excellent cinematography in high quality, then grab the DVD from your local video store or NetFlix. It is a great film from a source rarely recognized in this hemisphere. The tale has universal truths about human nature. You’ll love it.