Les amitiés maléfiques (2006)

POISON FRIENDS (LES AMITIES MALEFIQUES)(director/writer: Emmanuel Bourdieu; screenwriter: Marcia Romano; cinematographer: Yorick Le Saux; editor: Benoit Quinon; music: Grégoire Hetzel; cast: Malik Zidi (Eloi Duhaut), Thibault Vinçon (André Morney), Alexandre Steiger (Alexandre Pariente), Thomas Blanchard (Edouard Franchon), Dominique Blanc (Florence Duhaut), Natacha Régnier (Marguerite), Jacques Bonnaffé (Professor Mortier), Botum Dupuis (Alice), Françoise Gillard (Suzanne); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating:NR; producers: Mani Martazavi/David Mathieu-Mahias/Yorick Le Saux; Strand Releasing; 2006-France- in French with English subtitles)

A much too tidy insightful clinical tale about students dealing with academic life and the pains of growing up.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A much too tidy insightful clinical tale about students dealing with academic life and the pains of growing up, that’s filled with cloying literary pretensions. It’s written and directed by former French philosophy professor Emmanuel Bourdieu, the writer of Arnaud Desplechin’s My Sex Life… or How I got into an argument(1996) and Esther Kahn (2000).

At an unnamed Paris university (probably the Sorbonne!), on the first day of class, aspiring author Eloi (Malik Zidi) and aspiring playwright turned aspiring actor Alexandre (Alexandre Steiger) come under the spell of the know-it-all charismatic André (Thibault Vinçon) and hang together for the rest of the semester.André’s favorite quote, said often, is from the Austrian essayist Karl Kraus: “people write “because they are too weak not to write,” as the glib student poses as the voice of pure art. He also loves telling his disciples “Trust me, shallow modernism is in.” The two impressionable and insecure students rely on André’s guidance to get them by in school. Eloi, whose mom Florence (Dominique Blanc) is a famous novelist, is influenced by André to do his dissertation on the American novelist James Ellroy (“He’s the great one,” André boldly states in a way that demands no retort). Even André’s respected veteran literature teacher Mortier (Jacques Bonnaffé), an author of a scholarly book on Ellroy no longer published, is fooled by André’s uncompromising intellectual stand about writing and considers him his prize student.

André shows a mean streak putting down in a nasty tone those he disagrees with and considers inferior; he also steals the potential girlfriend of the timid Eloi, as he boldly courts the attractive school librarian Margaret (Natacha Régnier) and in a jealous snit erases the computer file of her short story; and he spitefully tries to ruin the relationship of Alexandre with his girlfriend (Botum Dupuis).

Things unravel when the professor, tired of being falsely flattered, is displeased with André’s efforts at a thesis and removes himself from being his mentor. Unable to face this disgrace of rejection, André tells his pals the professor got him into the esteemed exchange program at Berkeley and he’s off to America to write a literary review for the professor. When the truth is revealed in this coming-of-age drama and André’s bubble has been punctured, he’s now viewed as a shallow loser. His come-uppance points out how one needs to outgrow hero worship and rely on one’s own skills, which seems to be too obvious a life lesson.

Everything about the film, from its dry humor to its portrait of the sociopath behavior of André to its attempts at suspense to its moralistic take on frauds, seemed too forced and sterile–the only thing that moved about this production was its unswerving belief that words are important.