With a Friend Like Harry

(Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien)

With a Friend Like Harry comes highly acclaimed to the United States, after having won a four of 2001 Cesar Awards (the French equivalent of the Academy Award) including best actor (Sergi Lopez) and best director (Dominick Moll). It lost in three other large categories, and was also nominated for the Palme D'Or at Cannes. With a Friend Like Harry has an old-fashioned feel to it, a sense of development lacking in many films today. Having said that, this movie still feels like a letdown at times, especially at the end. This is a creepy film; one that slowly builds for a climactic showdown that never fully materializes.

Michel (Laurent Lucas, Pola X, 30 Years) is a typical family man. He works hard to get by, and has three young girls who can get really bratty at times. Michel and his wife Claire (Mathilde Seigner, Venus Beauty Institute, Hometown Blue) and kids are heading to their fixer upper vacation house when Michel meets Harry (Lopez, An Affair of Love, Ten Days Without Love), an old schoolmate. Michel does not remember Harry, but Harry remembers Michel. Harry remembers minute details including poetry and a short story by Michel, and quickly insinuates himself into Michel's life. Harry and his girlfriend Plum (Sophie Guillemin, L'Ennui, Tomorrow's Another Day) invite themselves over to Michel's house, and begin spending lots of time there.

Harry's behavior slowly becomes increasingly bizarre. It is slow enough that nobody notices. He wants Michel to take up writing again, and also wants to break up his marriage. He spies on Harry, and is always lurking around the corner with a smug look. Lopez's performance is excellent, earning his well-deserved Cesar. His Harry is creepy. When he smiles, it looks anything but friendly. Harry moves slowly and deliberately. All his actions are the result of careful planning and preparation. At times, his affections towards Michel seem homoerotic. Michel does not notice anything. All he knows is that his vacation is stressful, and that the level of tension between him and Claire is rising dramatically. Claire has her suspicions, and confronts Harry about it.

Things begin to fall apart near the end. Writers Moll (Intimacy) and Gilles Marchand (Human Resources) do a great job developing Harry's schemes. At times, they develop things a little too well, causing the story to slow down. They do manage to maintain an eerie, uneasy mood for the length of the movie. The end falters because of (without revealing anything) what it reveals and what it does not reveal. Michel needs to decide what to do, with his actions having far reaching consequences. It is more than just dealing with Harry, it helps define him as a man. He needs to choose what he values in life, and to define himself as a man. Harry's character, for all the work that Marchand and Moll spend on him, does not seem complete. His motivations and feelings are central to the movie, and it would be nice to know more of them.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 57 minutes, French with English subtitles, Rated R for language, some violence, and a scene of nudity.

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