With a Friend Like Harry
by Del Harvey
Is there a solution to every problem?
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The French-made With A Friend Like Harry (Harry, un ami qui vous veut du bien) is a conundrum. Take a teacher in his mid-thirties, Michel (Laurent Lucas) married to a beautiful and intelligent woman, Claire (Mathilde Seigner), with three lovely if not occasionally obnoxious children, en route to their rustic summer home for vacation. At a roadside gas station a seemingly chance meeting occurs. Washing his hands in the restroom he is approached by a man with a beaming smile on his face. This is Harry (Sergi Lopez), an old classmate from Michel’s school.
Michel does not recognize Harry at first, and maybe never does. That is the odd bit, because they seem to become good friends over the course of the next few days. Even though they bond in some mysterious way, Michel never seems to remember Harry from his past. Yet, Michel appears to have been prominent in Harry’s. Harry dated Michel’s cast-off girlfriend in school. The girl supposedly boasted of Michel’s giving her very first orgasm. And she must have read Michel’s poem to Harry repeatedly, because he can recite it from memory.
The poetry and Michel’s ability to write are all news to his wife. She is intrigued by this mysterious element of her dutiful husband’s past. She is as taken by the apparently rich Harry and his voluptuous fiancée, Plum (Sophie Guillemin), who takes an instant liking to Claire and her children.
Harry wastes no time insinuating himself into Michel’s life. First the family car breaks down, so Harry buys them a new 4x4. Michel fights the offer, weakly, slowly caving in and enjoying the vehicle. And upon arrival at the summer home they discover an abomination thrust upon them by Michel’s parents: the bathroom has been renovated in a bright pink tile, “fuschia,” Michel’s father insists. Apparently the parents thrust themselves into Michel and Claire’s life too much for Michel’s liking. Which, of course, means too much for Harry’s liking, as well. Ah, so many problems requiring solutions.
As the film progresses a strange thing happens to Michel. He finds himself doing things without knowing why he’s doing them. He begins alienating Claire. He spends nights sitting on the toilet in that repulsively pink bathroom trying to finish a short story from school. And Harry continues in his attempts to solve Harry’s problems, with whatever means necessary. And Harry’s means are pretty drastic.
There is a humorous moment when Harry returns to the summer house minus his expected passenger. Upon hearing Harry’s story of the passenger’s taking off in a fit of anger, Claire announces she will call the person on their cell phone. Harry’s eyes almost cross as he whispers, “Cell phone?” As the family watches Claire dial the cell number, Harry hastily goes to the trunk of his car, fishes in the pockets of his latest victim, then smashes the cell phone as it begins ringing.
Written by Dominik Moll and Gilles Marchand, and directed by Moll, With A Friend Like Harry is a masterpiece of absurdity and extremisms. Harry is an absolutely complex character, someone right out of a Raymond Carver novel. The story takes the viewer through several unexpected turns, delivering a finale that is equally surprising and satisfying.
With A Friend Like Harry has been compared to the novels of Patricia Highsmith, who has written a series of novels about Ripley (The Talented Mr. Ripley). I would have to include the short stories of Raymond Carver and even some of the more unusual of Stephen King’s short stories. Whatever you care to compare it to, With A Friend Like Harry is an excellent film. In its home country, Harry won the Cesar Awards (French equivalent of the Academy Award) for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Editor, and Best Actor for Sergi Lopez (Harry).
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly. He lives in Chicago, is a devout Bears fan, and therefore deserving of our sympathy.
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