WITH A FRIEND LIKE HARRY (Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien)
(director/writer: Dominik Moll; screenwriter: Gilles Marchand; cinematographer: Matthieu Poirot-Delpech; editor: Yannick Kergoat; cast: Laurent Lucas (Michel), Sergi López (Harry), Mathilde Seigner (Claire), Sophie Guillemin (Plum), Liliane Rovère (Mother), Dominique Rozan (Father), Michel Fau (Eric), Laurie Caminata (Sarah), Victoire de Koster (Jeanne), Lorena Caminata (Iris); Runtime: 117; Miramax Zoë/Diaphana Films; 2001-France)
“It is a frightening tale, but it is done in such a humorous manner that you might not realize how twisted it is until you start making a body count.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
German-born director Dominik Moll’s second feature, a droll comic thriller in French, is more like a Chabrol than a Hitchcock film — though a comparison to Hitch’s “Strangers on a Train” is a reasonable one. Its comic theme could be that a comfortable, air-conditioned car, can help solve a lot of domestic problems. Or more mysteriously, it’s a look at how an urban man who is stuck in the rat-race of modern life has awakened his dark side.
Michel (Laurent Lucas), who teaches Japanese businessmen French, and his sometimes sarcastic but always pretty wife, Claire (Mathilde Seigner), are a typical nuclear couple in their thirties who are on a stressful family summer vacation in their fix-it-up stone farmhouse outside of Paris. They have decided to take a two hour ride to visit his parents in the middle of a heatwave, as the first we see of them is in the car ride. With no air conditioning and three whining young daughters in the back seat, the couple can’t take the trip without having a splitting headache and stopping off at a rest area.
At the public bathroom, Michel meets an old school acquaintance, Harry (Sergi Lopez). He does not recognize or even remember who Harry is. But Harry recalls everything about him including a poem he wrote in the school magazine and a sci-fi story he started but never completed entitled “Flying Monkeys,” and that his father (Rozan) is a retired dentist who gave him a bridge when he was a youngster. The beaming Harry’s traveling companion is the voluptuous Plum (Guillemin), someone he enjoys having sex with and is nice but not overly endowed with brains. They are off to vacation in the Matterhorn, but because of this accidental meeting with Michel he changes his plans and inveigles his way into going to Michel’s house as a guest. Michel has called the trip off to his dad’s place because one of the girl’s has an earache.
Harry greatly admires Michel’s writing ability and has memorized that high school poem of his, reciting it from memory to the surprised Claire. She never even realized her husband wrote poetry. Harry’s new agenda is to get Michel to begin writing again, as he tries to be helpful by offering him financial assistance. Nice-guy Michel turns it down and doesn’t know what to make of Harry’s friendship, and is startled to learn that when his old car breaks down Harry buys him a brand new fully-equipped, air-conditioned SUV. This is something that Michel doesn’t want but Harry, who drives a new Mercedes, is someone who believes every problem could be solved.
Michel and Claire also have another unwanted gift bestowed upon them, as his overbearing parents surprise him by fixing up his bathroom. The only problem is they pick a garish fuchsia color, which goes against the grain of their quiet country lifestyle and stands out against the rest of the house in a vulgar way.
Harry sets it upon himself to help Michel solve his domestic problems so he can write again, and soon dead family bodies are turning up. Even though the boyish looking Harry is an affable guy and Plum gets along great with the kids, the couple feel uncomfortable with Harry. There’s something strange about him that they can’t put their finger on.
The film’s virtues are the great acting job by Lopez and an intellectual reason to enjoy the mystery.
It is a frightening tale, but it is done in such a humorous manner that you might not realize how twisted it is until you start making a body count. Its most glaring fault is that it just seems to be too clever for its own good, as we never learn just what Harry’s motivations are. Sometimes a reader reads more into a poem (or a movie) than what was really there!
REVIEWED ON 7/14/2001 GRADE: B https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/