Wednesday, July 6, 2011
With a Friend Like Harry (Harry un ami qui vous veut du bien) -- sociopathic problem solving
Director: Dominik Moll, 2000. (R)
The movie opens with Michel (Laurent Lucas) driving his family in an old car en route to their vacation home. With no air conditioning, the three young girls are hot and cranky, whining and screaming from the back. Up front Claire (Mathilde Seigner, sister of Emmanuelle Seigner, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly) is tired and Michel loses it. He pulls off for a break at a highway gas station. It is there, in the men’s rest-room, that he meets Harry (Sergi Lopez).
Harry is everything that Michel is not: well-dressed, hair combed, cool and confident. He drives an air-conditioned BMW, not a beater. Recognizing Michel as an old school-chum from years ago, he greets him warmly. Though Michel cannot remember him, Harry remembers even the smallest of details from their time together. What a coincidence!
When he emerges from the bathroom, Harry introduces his beautiful but brainless fiancée Plum (Sophie Guillemin) to Michel and his family. Though they decline Harry’s invitation to dinner, Harry wheedles an invitation to Michel’s farmhouse for a drink. There, he recites from memory an old poem that Michel wrote for his school newspaper and has subsequently forgotten. Michel’s dormant literary talent is news to Claire, and she wants to hear more.
This French film layers on suspense slowly and carefully, mixing dark humor with tantalizing intrigue. We know something is up; Harry is too good to be true. He manipulates his way into Michel’s vacation home but he is creepy, with his midnight wanderings and his strange rituals.
Harry is a self-declared problem-solver. He is quick and decisive in taking action when he sees a need, offering concrete and permanent fixes.
Problem-solving is clearly a good thing, a skill worth obtaining. Far better to dispatch a dilemma than to whine and pout over it. In the Old Testament, Daniel was looked on as a wise man because, “I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems” (Dan. 5:16). But the solution must match the problem, and not create further problems of their own; else we are simply shifting the issue, jumping from the frying pan into the fire. Therein lies the difference between a wise man (like Daniel) and simply a man of action (like Harry).
When Harry begins to offer advice to Michel, related to his writing and his relatives, we begin to see a motive underlying his manner. Yet this motive is never really fleshed out. We don’t get to see beneath Harry’s charming exterior to his inner soul. We just see a well-to-do and wealthy sociopath who seems socially normal.
at 7:00 AM