Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday Movie Review: With a Friend Like Harry

Harry un ami qui vous veut du bien (With a Friend Like Harry) (2000) 8/10
Michel (Laurent Lucas) and his wife Claire (Mathilde Seigner) are driving to their summer home with their three young daughters when they meet, by chance, an old schoolmate of Michel's at a rest stop. Harry (Sergi López) remembers Michel very well, although Michel barely remembers him at all. Soon Harry and his girlfriend Plum (Sophie Guillemin) are staying with Michel and Claire, and it seems that Harry has very specific ideas about how to improve Michel's life.

It's a hot summer day. The baby in the car seat cries ceaselessly. The other kids argue and yell. The parents are harassed, worn. A hand-held camera captures the immediacy of this until you want to pull the car over your damn self. Just make it stop. It is everything that sucks about domestic bliss.

When Harry arrives, really, it's such a relief. It mostly seems like Michel doesn't remember him because he's too worn out to think straight. Once they decide that Harry and Plum will follow Michel and Claire to their summer house, the next step is to have the baby travel in Harry's air-conditioned car. No longer overheated, she is calm and adorable. How easy to solve problems when you're independently wealthy!

Because Harry is living large on inheritance, he sees problem-solving as just that easy. Michel and Claire don't want his charity, but they are certainly beaten down by a lack of time and money, and Harry just wants to help. Are things more sinister than that? The soundtrack music certainly suggests it. In scenes that might otherwise be innocent, some very old-fashioned Hitchcockian violins work to create tension.

And you have to ask, what's up with this guy? He has memorized a poem that Michel wrote in high school. Look, Michel doesn't remember him, and Harry is reciting Michel's poetry. That's just not right. Things aren't going to go well.

I was stunned by Sergi López in An Affair of Love, and then read a favorable review of this film, and added it to my "To See" list. But the list grows at a rate faster than I watch movies, and I forgot about it. It is worth remembering. Naturalistic, chilling, smart, and understated, With a Friend Like Harry is a graceful bit of domestic horror. It does a good job of combining the ordinary horrors of life: Crying children, overwork, demanding elderly parents, with a little something more. Harry is smart, and spoiled, entertaining, and demanding. He seems a little like a comedic Guest Who Wouldn't Leave. By the time things take a dark turn, you might have let your guard down, or thought things would go in an entirely different direction. Yet everything in the plot had been meticulously set up. In the end, you're left wondering what mark Harry has left on this family, and what was under the surface that you never got to see.

(French cross-post)