With a Friend Like Harry ....
[Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien]
© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.

     Unless you've only recently graduated, chances are you won't remember
every one of your high school classmates. If someone stopped you on the
street and started talking to you about the good old days, how would react?
That's the jumping off point for the tidy thriller
With a Friend Like Harry...
Deservedly called "Hitchcockian," (the title calls to mind the master's
The
Trouble With Harry
and the plot is a variation on Strangers on a Train), the
film is anchored by a change of pace turn by Catalan actor Sergi López, who is
perhaps best-known to art-house patrons for his work in the films such as
Western and Une Affair Pornographique (An Affair of Love). Generally cast
as gentle, good men, López as Harry appears to be once again mining the
same territory, but gradually he reveals the darker undercurrent in this very
troubled man.

     Director Dominik Moll begins the film with a letter-perfect view of what can
only be called hell. On a hot summer afternoon, Michel (Laurent Lucas of
POLA
X
) and his attractive wife Claire (Mathilde Segnier of Venus Beauty Institute)
are trapped in their sedan (without air conditioning) with their three screaming
daughters. The first few moments capture and distill Michel's life of struggle as
he tries to please the women in his life. When they make a stop at a roadside
rest area, Michel meets Harry in the men's room. It's an awkward moment as
the former clearly doesn't recall the latter. There's also a question of class
difference: Michel is a relatively impoverished schoolteacher; Harry appears to
be independently wealthy. As a gesture, Michel invites Harry and his
companion, the blowzy Plum (Sophie Guillemin), to their vacation home,
knowing full well it's in the opposite direction they are heading. When Harry
accepts the invitation, Michel is trapped. Harry also has an air-conditioned car
and offers a ride to Claire and the youngsters, which is at first declined. But
Harry's insinuating charm and oddball manner work to his advantage.
Unfortunately, he becomes the house guest that doesn't seem to want to leave.

     With a Friend Like Harry... doesn't offer easy solutions or pat answers.     
Harry's motives are never clearly spelled out. (There is an admittedly
homoerotic undercurrent but it is never developed.) That he can recite
schoolboy poetry that Michel wrote and seemingly obsesses over another
of Michel's writings (a science-fiction short story) borders on the genuinely
creepy. Gradually, Harry gets Michel to open up about all the underlying
resentment that the teacher keeps bottled up. (Things like his meddlesome
parents whose latest misstep is the installation of a hot pink bathroom in
the rustic vacation home.) It's possible to read the film as Harry being a
physicalization of Michel's id (with Plum a projection of Claire's suppressed
ego), but it is also possible to be a bit more literal. That Harry is a master
of self-restraint, yet completely out of control; a seductive presence as well
as a destructive one. When he one by one removes the roadblocks to what
he perceives as the path to Michel's happiness, he does so methodically,
leading to the inevitable confrontation.

     The film rests squarely on the shoulders of its leading men, and neither
disappoints. López, who has picked up several awards, delivers a nicely
calibrated turn, capturing the attractive and enticing aspects of the
character as well as delineating his underlying menace. Since Harry is
somewhat of a blank, the actor must fill in what's missing and López
accomplishes this with ease. Lucas is just as praiseworthy, although because
he has the more passive role, his work tends to be overlooked. Both women
also manage to create fully-rounded characters.

     Dominik Moll (who also co-wrote the script with Gilles Marchand)
demonstrates as sure hand in his direction. He succeeds at setting the tone of
unease and discomfort from the film's opening and following through on it,
infusing ordinary situations with tension and then ratcheting up the pressure.
There are minor quibbles, some of the subplots aren't as intriguing as the main
story, but mostly, the film climaxes in a manner that is all too predictable.
While it is not a major fault, it does mar this otherwise delicious black comedy.


                   
Rating:                  B
                   
MPAA Rating:         R for language, some violence
                                                   and a scene of nudity