October 29, 2001 -- "With a Friend Like Harry" is a complex psychological thriller about an old high school classmate who is more than a little strange.
This French film with English subtitles is a little similar to some Hitchcock films like "Strangers on a Train." It starts out with an average guy, Michel (Laurent Lucas), his wife and kids on a very unpleasant car trip on a very hot day. The kids are screaming in the back seat and one of the kids is repeatedly kicking the back of her father's seat while he is trying to concentrate on driving. There is no air conditioning in the car, and the car itself is making a lot of noise.
Michel decides he's had enough and decides to go back home rather than continue on the trip to his parent's house. Then he meets an old high school classmate in a public rest room. Harry Ballestero (Sergi López) remembers Michel very vividly, but Michel has forgotten Harry altogether. It turns out that Harry is a big admirer of Michel's writings in some high school publications. He has even committed one of Michel's poems to memory. When he finds out that Michel has given up writing and he sees how family concerns are weighing on him, Harry decides to "help" Michel free himself from his worries and get back to writing.
Harry and his girlfriend, Plum (Sophie Guillemin) stay at Michel's country home and Michel begins to learn more about Harry. He finds out that Harry is used to getting exactly what he wants, exactly when he wants it. He will do anything to get what he wants and he will not compromise. Harry is also rich, having inherited his father's estate, and can be quite generous. Harry buys a car to replace Michel's worn out vehicle. It is just part of Harry's plan to help Michel. Not all of Harry's plans are so benign.
The complexity of the plot has to do with the way Michel is changed by Harry. He does, indeed, begin to resume his writing career. There is more than a hint that Michel likes some of Harry's ideas about becoming more self-centered, and less accommodating to the needs of others. We begin to wonder just how much Michel is beginning to change into a person more like Harry. In a way, this psychological theme can be seen as an example of a peculiar artistic sensibility that sets art (in this case, Michel's writing) above all other things (another example of this can be seen in "Pollock"). One scene, in particular, seems to be an example of how a fan might respond in a violent way to a critic. Maybe this is a way for the director, Dominik Moll, to get back at the movie critics. Let me just say this to Mr. Moll, if you are reading this; I liked your movie, and I'm trying real hard not to say anything very bad about it.
Both Laurent Lucas and Sergi López are terrific as the lead actors, and Mathilde Seigner is very effective as Claire, Michel's wife. The plot is very heavy on the black comedy, so one can overlook the logical problems to a degree. The plot gets more and more absurd as Harry's behavior becomes more and more bizarre, until we get to the climax, which is quite memorable. The pace of the film was a bit slow at times and I noticed I wasn't the only member of the audience getting restless during those times when the film drags along. However, the film does reward the patient viewer. There is also some interesting cinematography, including some total whiteout scenes resembling a film break, by Matthieu Poirot-Delpech. This film rates a C+.
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