link back to kusp front page your npr member station and picture of the monterey bay
link to the KUSP program guide link to performing arts page link to contact KUSP make a pledge to kusp
listen to our live audio stream link to our program guide link to our performing arts page link to contact kusp make a pledge to kusp
listen to our live audio stream link to our playlists make a comment link to our newsroom link to our arts section
Main | Archive | Bios | Survey | Local Shows | Music | Public Affairs | Staff | Translator Status | Weather 
Search our site  Powered by NetMind
Read past reviews by the Film Gang
June 4th, 2001 - With a Friend Like Harry
Review by Carla Freccero

Now playing at the Nickleodeon in Santa Cruz, With a Friend Like Harry, a French film directed by Dominik Moll, is a kind of slow-moving, Hitchcockian thriller-mystery about a strange man who enters the lives of a harried vacationing couple, Michel and Claire (played by Laurent Lucas and Mathilde Seigner).  The stranger, Harry  (played magnificently and diabolically by Sergi Lopez), meets Michel in a gas station rest room and claims to have known him from high school.  The couple invites him—and his girlfriend Prune, played by Sophie Guillemin) to their country house for the evening, and then the trouble begins.  Harry is creepy—too friendly, too rich—and he takes an unhealthily avid interest in Michel. To solve the problems of this unhappy couple he buys them an SUV with enough room for the three daughters and air-conditioning.  Then he starts encouraging Michel to write and nagging him to get out from under the burdensome obligations of filial duty.  Finally, he decides that the rest of the family is Michel’s problem and starts figuring out ways to solve it. 

I’ve heard some reviews claim that Harry’s the devil, and that would make this a story about temptation—the temptation of believing that you were destined for better things than a struggling middle-class existence with three complaining children and a devoted but exhausted mate.  Part of that temptation would also be delusions of grandeur:  Harry convinces Michel that his writing is good and that he should try to make a serious go of it.  Another part of the temptation is also forbidden fruit:  Harry’s girlfriend Prune (“Plum” in French) isn’t given that name for nothing.  If this were an American film, it would probably be either a comedy or a horror flick, but because it’s French, it is both more sinister and more plausible as a parable of Satan’s visit to the bourgeois everyman. 

Does the devil win?  Well yes and no. It’s possible to read this as a tale of redemption where the struggling man of the house—perhaps in the throes of an early mid-life crisis—makes the right decision, does the right thing, and takes up a hobby that will provide him with the alternate fulfillment he needs to survive the nuclear family.  Oh, and yes, even though at first he sneers at the gift of the car, ultimately his main reward for all that moral rectitude is a brand new SUV that he gets for free.  Interesting that the new mid-life crisis-mobile is no longer the classic and classically phallic two-seater red hot sports number, but a four-by-four.  Sound familiar? 

On the other hand, the moral ambiguities here are a bit more unsettling:  Michel does, after all, get what he wants, and his problems are conveniently dealt with by someone else, so that he never has to come to terms with his own evil, selfish, murderous desires.  And Harry?  What does he want?  Although we suspect his motives from beginning to end, it seems clear that his most ardent wishes are for Michel, not for himself.  He thus ends up seeming oddly self-sacrificial.  Maybe he, too, gets what he wants after all.  By the end of the film he and Michel have become the same person in a twist of events ever so faintly reminiscent of the plot of Fight Club, a la française, of course, which means that the characters are more ordinary (not the larger-than-life Brad Pitt) and the conclusion more banal (no apocalyptic overtones here).

I didn’t like this movie very much, from the story angle:  the women are disposed of far too casually—mere obstacles on the path to self-fulfillment--in spite of their interesting character development and their sympathetic portrayal.  Did Moll have to keep the misogynist bathwater along with the Hitchcock baby?  But from a formal and narrative point of view, it was fabulous.  Tight editing, carefully delineated plot, excellent character sketches.  The tribute to Hitchcock is successful too, with none of the gaudiness of Brian de Palma and all of the mystery and suspense of an older era of filmaking.  It’s an excellent movie for film lovers, if not for those of us who identify more with the kind-hearted girlfriends and the exhausted mothers.  Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.

Copyright Carla Freccero